Letter From LA: Gods and Monsters

Swaying palm trees, cool evening breezes, night-blooming jasmine, ruby red and purple bougainvillea, golden sun at twilight: these are some of the cliches that describe Los Angeles — and they’re true. But here’s another version of LA’s reality, from the famous French sociologist, philosopher and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard: “There is nothing to match flying over Los Angeles by night. A sort of luminous, geometric, incandescent immensity, stretching as far as the eye can see, bursting out from the cracks of the clouds. Only Hieronymus Bosch’s hell can match this inferno effect. The muted fluorescent of all the diagonals: Wilshire, Lincoln, Sunset, Santa Monica. Already, flying over San Fernando Valley, you come upon the horizontal infinite in every direction. But, once you are beyond the mountain, a city ten times larger hits you. You will never have encountered anything that stretches as far as this before. Even the sea cannot match it, since it is not divided up geometrically … Mulholland Drive by night is an extraterrestrials vantage point on earth, or conversely, an earth dweller’s vantage point on the galactic metropolis” (from America, 1989).  LA is unique, yes. But in one respect, LA is still just like every other major American city — riddled with corruption. LA’s past has had its share of robber barons and cheats and thieves and politicians on the take — from the Huntingtons and Chandlers and Dohenys through William Mulholland and Mark Taper. LA’s past has been riddled with police and city council corruption — just pick up a copy of “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City” by John Buntin for a litany of LA scandals.

But lately it seems that the sewage is bubbling more often than not to the surface.  Former LA City Council member Mitch Englander was sentenced to federal prison last year for obstructing a corruption probe, former Council member José Huizar was indicted in 2020 on bribery and other federal charges for allegedly favoring developers, former Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas stepped aside after being charged with facilitating public contracts to the University of Southern California in exchange for favors (Marilyn Louise Flynn, the former dean of the USC School of Social work, was implicated in the bribery scandal; the 83-year-old was sentenced to a $100,000 fine and 10 years of house arrest. Ms. Flynn was the stepgrandmother to Tess, my daughter Lizzie’s best friend during her teenage years).

USC has been a hotbed of scandals: there was an FBI sting of a basketball coach, sexual abuse allegations by former patients of a campus gynecologist who they say sexually abused them (USC agreed to pay more than $850 million to settle), cover-ups of on-campus rapes, and a blatant influence-peddling scheme around college admissions in which some Hollywood stars and elites bribed their kids’ way into the school. USC’s rival across the city has also come in for its share of scandals, chief among them the indictment of a former UCLA campus gynecologist for sexually abusing female patients; a Los Angeles jury found Dr. James Heaps guilty in a criminal case that came after the university system made nearly $700 million in lawsuit payouts.

And Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has come under intense scrutiny for blocking an investigation into excessive violence by deputies against inmates, and for his denial that violent Deputy Gangs permeate the Sheriff’s Department.

The latest: three LA City Council members and the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor were caught on tape last year discussing ways to consolidate power in Los Angeles at the expense of Black leadership; during the conversation anti-Semitic, anti-Black and anti-Armenian remarks were made. When the tape was leaked last month, City Council President Nury Martinez, who disparaged a white colleague’s adopted 2-year-old Black son, stepped down, as did Ron Herrera, president of the labor organization. The two other council members, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, have yet to resign, despite a public outcry, and there’s no way that the men can be kicked off the city council short of a voter recall. Cedillo will term out this December, but de León has two years left on his term, which will net him about $568,000 in combined salary and pension. What a rat.

Speaking of vermin, Los Angeles has been named the third “rattiest” city in the country (it was second last year). Exterminator company Orkin released its annual list of the most mice-and-rat invested cities last Wednesday; Chicago tops the list followed by New York, LA, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco in the top five. The survey covers September 1, 2021 to August 31, 2022. According to Orkin: “Each fall, mice and other rodents invade an estimated 21 million homes in the United States. They typically enter homes between October and February looking for food, water and shelter from the cold. And unique to previous years, with the influx of outdoor dining structures brought on by the pandemic, rodents have found the perfect place to dine, live and multiply … with some displaying more aggressive behavior than in the past.” When I lived in Beverly Hills in the 1990s and 2000s, that wealthy city had a terrible rat problem. As far back as 1999, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Once concentrated in fields and crowded urban areas, the reviled rodents have started to invade some of the best addresses in America … How did rats wind up scampering into the lap of luxury? With urban rodents reproducing at epidemic rates after two consecutive mild winters, overcrowding has induced them to trek, street by street, to suburban settings … the suburbs are easy street: lavish leftovers in flimsy plastic bags, high-end pet chow, birdfeeders everywhere.” Beverly Hills still has a major rat problem and though not enough to make Orkin’s top-50 list, it still jangles the nerves of the city’s affluent residents; according to WickedLocal website, “Beverly City Councilor Stacy Ames said she has received more calls and emails related to the rodent problem than any other issue while she’s been in office.”

I hang out a lot near the Hollywood Bowl, walking a friend’s dog, and I see many interesting things. There’s a lot of cruising and speeding along Highland Avenue past the Bowl — it’s a long stretch from Franklin leading up to the Hollywood Freeway (101) and I guess some young men of a certain adolescent mentality love to rev their engines and “hot-rod it” up the street with mufflers that make earthquake-like rumbling sounds (hey, wait, didn’t I do this when I was a teenager?). There’s also a lot of motorcycle gangs that tool up the street (why don’t these bikes have mufflers these days?), followed by 18-wheelers, garbage trucks and buses. Lots of noise. There’s also a lot of homeless people walking up and down the street — only a couple of blocks away there’s a gigantic homeless encampment lining both sides of Cahuenga Blvd. under the 101 overpass, as well as in a park area above the Hollywood Heritage Museum (the original Lasky-DeMille Barn that served as one of the first Hollywood studios in the 1910s), which sits in the middle of the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. Some of them come down the hills like coyotes, scavenging for food and recyclables in the neighborhood trash cans. But the weirdest thing I saw recently was an older gentleman pulling into the Hollywood Bowl parking lot one morning. His car was a late-model BMW X7 (probably a 2021 or 2022 since the California license plate began with a “9”) with a sticker price that starts at $73,000. With long gray hair flopping out from under a baseball cap, the man opened the rear car gate, pulled out a personal shopping cart and walked over to a line of trash cans. He rummaged through the trash, pulled out some bottles and cans, then began walking up into the Whitley Hills (a wealthy residential area adjacent to the Bowl), checking out the garbage cans as he went. I can only surmise one of two things: He just lost his job and needed the cash he could make from collecting recyclable bottles and cans – or – the guy has figured out how to make enough money from scavenging to buy a BMW. As I walked by his car I peeked in a side window and saw a bunch of LA city maps unfolded on the passenger seat. Nothing like planning out your scavenger hunt.

I’ve always liked the smell of fresh-cut grass — it reminds me of summer days growing up in Mar Vista, when, as a kid, mowing the front lawn was a weekly chore. But now it turns out that that smell that so many people like is really a cry for help. According to an NPR report, two University of Missouri researchers say that freshly cut grass blades are not too happy about being shorn. “For more than 30 years, husband-wife team Jack Schultz and Heide Appel of MU’s Christopher S. Bond Life Science Center have studied how plants react to stress. For example, when a plant is wounded, it can sometimes release airborne chemicals to attract birds and other insects to try to eliminate pests that are causing the damage. So when we cut the grass, Schultz says the grass is trying to find something to help.”

Back in the late 1960s, early 1970s, I rented a great apartment in Echo Park, in what is now known as Elysian Heights. In the early part of the 20th century, nearby Edendale was the home to most of the major movie studios on the West Coast, with such companies as the Keystone Studios, Fox, Pathe and others clustered along what is now Glendale Blvd. Because of its close proximity to these movie lots and, later to Hollywood, the hilly, forest-like Elysian Heights became the home to wealthy Angelenos; the area was also a bastion for artists and communists in the years leading up to World War II. After the War the neighborhood started to slide economically, and its cheap rents became a magnet for hippies and bohemians. Some of the homes at the top of Echo Park Avenue were veritable mansions: the apartment I rented was the bottom 1/3 of a gigantic three-bedroom house that had been broken up into smaller units (my next door neighbor’s house — which was shared by three bearded young men — had an expansive gardenia garden as well as an indoor swimming pool). I lived there from 1969 to 1976 and loved it; the house was perched at the very top of the hill, with a sunken dining room that had a view toward the lights of Glendale and Eagle Rock. It was secluded, with a long flight of eerie cement steps leading up to an overgrown back yard and dirt-filled pond. Off the dining room was a small utility room that — even in the heat of the summer — was always cold. The rest of the apartment was circular: you would enter from a back door, through the kitchen into the living room. A right turn took you up some stairs to two bathrooms, one with a toilet, the other with a shower. At the top of the stairs was a long hallway that butted up against the building’s basement; at the end of the hallway was a spacious bedroom. Another flight of stairs lead down to a small vanity room, then back down to the living room — a complete circle.

One night I was awakened by the screams of my lover: “Harley, there’s someone in the hallway,” she yelled. I jumped up and, as I headed for the hall, saw a yellow orb of light floating away from me. There was no one there. This happened a few more times — awakenings in the middle of the night — then they abruptly stopped. Cold room, floating lights — was this place haunted? As it turned out, the house was owned by Elizabeth Hampton, my landlady, who had lived in Echo Park with her husband, Roy, in the 1930s and 1940s. Roy was an LA City Councilman from 1939 to 1943, and was involved in some political controversies during and after his terms in office. He was a graduate of the University of Southern California and of its Law School and worked as a journalist as well as an attorney. In 1953 his body was found in a motel on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu; Sheriff’s deputies said he had taken his own life. Was that Roy floating down my hallway in 1973?

Happy Halloween, Roy.

Til next time,

Posted on November 11, 2022
Leave a Comment

Jean-Luc Godard: 1930-2022

Jean-Luc Godard: 1930-2022

Counter vague ideas with sharp images.

Posted on September 14, 2022
Leave a Comment

Letter From LA – Summer 2022 – The Crime Issue

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there were certain parts of the city you just didn’t go to — the bad sides of town: Watts, East LA, parts of Venice and Culver City, Pacoima, Gardena. The stigma never really bothered me: I hung out with bikers in Culver City, surf bums in Venice, partied in South Central, went to topless bars in Hawthorne, wandered Skid Road. I even lived in Echo Park way before it was fashionable, when the hills were ruled by the Frogtown gang. But times have changed — as we finish up the first quarter of the 21st century, all of Los Angeles has become “the bad side of town.”

Crime is up all over the city, crazies roam the street ala “Night of the Living Dead,” homeless encampments (many of them hotbeds for drug use and crime) have taken over some city parks and jam up side streets and some main thoroughfares, blocking sidewalks with tents and sleeping bags — even a famous intersection such as Hollywood and Vine is not immune to hosting the homeless.

According to a June report in Bloomberg News, murders in Los Angeles are surging on a wave of gun violence, following a spike in crime last year. The city saw 172 homicides through June 18, marking a 5.5 percent increase over the same period last year, which saw a 30 percent jump from the first half of 2020. According to Los Angeles Police Department data, overall violent crime is up about 8 percent.

There has been a raft of armed robberies at mini-marts, gas stations and liquor stores (during one night over a five-hour period in the early part of July, a pair of criminals held up six 7-Eleven stores in Southern California, killing two people); there have been police shootouts with robbers on Melrose in the Fairfax district; follow-home robberies in Beverly Hills and the Beverly Grove areas; people have been accosted at outdoor restaurants and robbed of jewelry and expensive watches; there have been numerous shootings (not gang-related) on weekends in various parks across the city; muggings, car-jackings, dognappings, home invasions, and general assaults and mayhem are on the rise; more so in Hollywood where people are continually assaulted by crazies and homeless as they stroll the city streets.

In mid-July Knott’s Berry Farm had to close early for the night because there were numerous fights throughout the park.

The new Downtown Sixth Street bridge — which replaced the old unsafe Sixth Street Viaduct built in 1932 that connected Downtown Los Angeles with Boyle Heights and spanned the Los Angeles River, the Golden State Freeway (I-5) and Metrolink and Union Pacific railroad tracks — had to be intermittently closed just two weeks after it opened. The problem: the bridge was taken over four nights out of six last month by groups of people whose illegal activities included dangerous speed maneuvers (“car doughnuts”) and racing , scaling the bridge’s arches, partying in the roadway, tagging, and other nonsense (Apparently, street takeovers in LA are not so uncommon. According to CBS Los Angeles, police have documented 657 street takeovers so far this year, with 352 misdemeanor arrests, 2,000 citations and the impounding of 439 cars).

And speaking of cars, road rage is on the rise in LA. According to the LAPD, there were 459 reports of road rage in the city in the first half of the year, up 32.7 percent over the same period last year … and 136 of those incidents involved a firearm. Driving in general has become more hazardous as more and more people disobey the law: speeding, running red lights, cutting in and out of traffic. Some of this is residue from the early months of the pandemic, when people could speed down virtually empty city streets and “own” the road.

Eleven smash-and-grab robberies in Los Angeles last year involved over hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods and property damage. Targeted stores included Nordstrom at the Grove (where at least 18 thieves used sledgehammers to smash through windows), Nordstrom at the Westfield Topanga shopping center in Canoga Park (where a security guard was assaulted with bear spray), Ksubi on South La Brea Avenue, Bottega Veneta on Melrose Place, and several stores in the Beverly Center.

But wait, there’s more:

A couple of weeks ago a homeless man pounded on the glass doors to my security building for five minutes, screaming to be let in; he then walked to the next apartment building and did the same there.

Last month I was waiting in the lobby of a veterinarian on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood when a  man tried to force his way in to the building. He was clearly delusional and said “is this the hospital; I want to get my meds.” The receptionist had to block the door and explain that it was a hospital for cats and dogs; the man left.

Neighbors in near-by residential areas reported a man running from rooftop to rooftop to peer into the backyards of homes; half-naked men and women wander around screaming to themselves (and the gods).

Two months ago I had to chase three homeless men (one with a bicycle) out of our parking garage when I came home at about 1:30am. They were going through the trash cans and peeking into car windows and looking through things people had stored in boxes stacked against the walls.

A couple of nights later when I came home around midnight a young man was slouching in a corner near our building’s front doors. I asked him to leave but he said he was doing nothing wrong. I said you’re trespassing. He wouldn’t move. I went upstairs and got my next door neighbor, Michael, who used to front a metal-hair band in the 1990s and now lives a quiet life with his pitbull Santo, to help — Michael leaned over the second-floor-outside balcony and asked the guy what he was doing. “I’m waiting for a friend,” he said, and Michael said, “well, you better go wait somewhere else because you don’t belong around here.” Michael is tough looking. The guy left.

Citing safety concerns, Starbucks has closed six of its outlets in Los Angeles (and 10 others around the county — six in and around Seattle, two in Portland, Ore., one in Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C.). Starbucks officials mentioned drug use, threatening behavior, mental health issues and racism as some of the underlying causes for the closures. Baristas have complained of being harassed by customers; there’s vandalism, violence, theft. The August 8 issue of The New Yorker reported on the closures in LA: One barista said that “People get violent with us. People steal stuff. It’s very aggressive.” “They spit on us,” another said. Other baristas have had drinks thrown at them. According to the article, “at a Little Tokyo location, an employee was jabbed by a used hypodermic needle while emptying the trash. … Outside the Hollywood and Vine Starbucks, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a barista said, ‘People come in here, they make a lot of noise, they bang on the walls, they yell at us. There was a fight outside. A guy was completely covered in blood … We got the security guards, and it didn’t really help … People visit Hollywood and they say, “This is not what I expected.”‘”

Is there a general breakdown in the social fabric, where the selfishness and materialistic values of the so-called “me generation” have spread to the population as a whole? A breakdown exacerbated by the pandemic that left people jobless and homeless and stressed. And now aggravated by the new Monkeypox epidemic, inflation, a Southern California drought that has made local governments restrict water usage, food shortages, computer chip shortages, supply chain disruptions, the possibility of electrical brownouts as the summer progresses — is this the makings of something out of a dystopian “Mad Max” science fiction movie?

(Of course, there’s craziness the world over: incredible heat waves in Europe and Asia,
water and food shortages, war and famine, toxic air pollution, China and Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine, Iran, North Korea)

Anyone got a spare bedroom in the country?

Posted on August 24, 2022
Leave a Comment

Letter From LA: Spring 2022

 It’s been more than six months since my last Letter; this winter was a mind-numbing jumble of ill tidings that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, was a winter of (my) discontent, with little to celebrate, to write about. I can’t remember such despair on the U.S. stage since the dark days of the war in Vietnam:

Book bannings
Library and school board battles
‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws
Assaults on voting’ rights
The imminent loss of Roe v Wade
The incredible increase in violence, with crime in general and murder in particular way up
Re-emergence of COVID and its new variations
Food and durable goods shortages
Rise in teen mental issues and suicides
Homeless numbers increasing
Republicans still threatening democracy
General craziness on the streets and roads
The Russian invasion of Ukraine
Sky rocketing gas prices
The ongoing climate emergency
Trump still not in jail
And now more and more mass shootings in hospitals, stores and schools

Sometimes it’s hard to navigate these rocky shoals of early 21st century life. So to save my sanity, I’ve promised myself that I’ll write more and more Letters, to crystalize my thoughts, get things off my chest, and entertain my friends and family. Hopefully there will be many more missives, albeit some shorter than others; like this one.

“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” — Paul Theroux

That said, Tuesday, June 7, is a Primary Election in California. In Los Angeles, the ballot includes more than two dozen offices up for grabs, from Governor down to members of the California State Board of Equalization.

The choices are legion: there are 23 candidates for the United States Senate and 26 for California Governor; most offices have eight or nine candidates listed. As I read through the Voter Information Pamphlet and waded my way through the candidates’ statements, I was reminded of a quotation by Victor Hugo: “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”

So, to add a little levity to the insanity, here’s some excerpts from some of the better candidate statements (copied verbatim from the pamphlet):

State Senate:

Chuck Smith | REPUBLICAN
America must be governed according to the Constitution; For the People and By the People. I am a Marine Vietnam Veteran, Retired Law Enforcement Professional and Patriot. I am also a Christian and I believe God wants to use me to help Him make America Righteous Again.

Akinyemi Agbede | DEMOCRATIC
Rescue America!!! America must be Revived from collapsing. Therefore, electing Dr. Akinyemi Agbede, for the United States Senate is the answer.

In my campaign for sanity my background and qualifcations are: The poisonous fake vaccines don’t work, stop infection or transmission. Over one million VAERS injuries. Brandon Pollet. Michael Granata. Vaxeed.org documents immediate and long term debilitation. Public are guinea pigs. Masks are useless/joke against a virus. Vaxxing children is a crime. Covid is biological warfare against humanity. Vaccines kill you (systemic infammation) and your God created immune system. Build it by natural methods. I am chairman of the Constitution Party of California and created “Contract with California” (found at Fight-the-Power.org and CPofCA.org); also NationalStraightPrideCoalition.org (Normal, Natural, Healthy, Sane); ArrestBiden.org; TheyAreAttackingTheChildren.org; StopNumber24.org; HarrisIsAHouseNegro.org; CandleCrusade.org; IAmADomesticTerrorist.org. Nationalize Federal Reserve. Get honest/real money, permanent fantastic prosperity for everyone, and stop being slaves to Fed private banking cartel. See HenryMakow.com. Only 2 genders. Transgender does not exist, only psychotic broken people. Ban mutilating and indoctrinating children. Ae911truth.org. “Climate Change” is a total lie—they are too cowardly to debate. Say no to Homer Simpson fake “97% science.” The sky is not falling. 2020 election stolen by Deep State including ultra-corrupt media which will steal all future elections. White Supremacy = Planned Parenthood public health menace. They have killed 20 million + blacks; see BlackGenocide.org. Universal soul poison = hatred/resentment of parents = personal and societal breakdown. Antidote = FHU.com. Use to fght Mass Formation Psychosis/Social Engineering. Free Deep State patsy Sirhan Sirhan. Reject suicidal Green New Deal Insanity. Promote nuclear fusion


Armando “Mando” Perez-Serrato | DEMOCRATIC
California Proclamation—My beloved Californians, I empathize without beguilement nor prejudice how solemn my words must tender to assuage your unfeigned hardship & bereavement, cloaked in the uncertainty of loss. Our prayers & condolences illuminate many a kindred spirit with honorable presence that your noble sacrifce perpetuates our united comfort of hope. I pray our Heavenly Father will bring light to the plight of the world, ease your daily crucifxion & complete economic resurrection for our American Family—This Is The Way. Donate today on Apple Cash, Venmo, GooglePay, CashApp to 714-448-0044 or mail check/money order to address below, payable to: Armando Perez. Thank you to my parents Consuelo & Melchor Perez for a lifetime of hard work and dedication to provide an opportunity to succeed.

Daniel R. Mercuri | REPUBLICAN
We are sovereigns, not serfs, with God-given constitutionally protected rights. I’m in this race to stop the erosion of our freedoms and put oath violators behind bars! With Jesus as my foundation, I’ll bring accountability back into our government, God back into our country, and stop treating the state like a business which enslaves Californians to meet a proft margin.

And, here’s the last word (and last laugh) on this all, from Mariana B. Dawson, running for Governor with NO PARTY PREFERENCE:

“F all politicians”


Til next time,

Posted on June 8, 2022
Leave a Comment

Milestone Film & Video: “This April, we say NO to wars past & present”

War Is Not Healthy

War Is Not Healthy

The online article accompanying Stu Levitan’s 2020 interview with author and filmmaker Gregg Mitchell describes his fascinating book about the making — and unmaking — of a postwar anti-nuclear Hollywood feature film:

War Is Not Healthy“The Beginning or the End was a B movie about the A bomb, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in February, 1947. It promised to disclose what it called ‘the biggest, best-kept secret in the history of the world – the men, the magic, the machines behind the world’s strongest force – the atom bomb.’ The movie was, the studio declared in all caps with exclamation points ‘FACTUAL! AUTHENTIC!’

Well, not quite. Because a movie set in motion by scientists wanting the world to know the truth was taken over by the military and the White House needing the world to believe a lie. How that happened is the business that occupies Greg Mitchell in The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood – and America – Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It’s not just a great yarn with some surprising participants, it’s also an urgent warning about secrecy, manipulation and suppression.”

Listen now


Courtesy Milestone Film & Video

Posted on April 1, 2022
Leave a Comment

keep looking »