39 stories of lonely men oozing out like pitch from the main vein of forgotten Los Angeles.
CATAWAMPUSLAND // November 2018
Skid Row Reader
Supported by generous matching grants from the Vera Campbell Foundation and the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, the Skid Row Reader is a textbook project geared towards creating relevant literacy materials for adult reading students on Los Angeles' Skid Row.
Contributors include David Shields, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Michael Lesy, D. Randall Blythe, Terry Stevenson and many others.
Every now and then, I come up with something extra poignant to say about the "Livable City" I live in. Mostly, the writing here focuses on recontextualizing old civic issues with new ideas that broaden or challenge popular myths about Downtown Los Angeles.
Pass Proposition HHH, but don't think money alone will fix Skid Row
"Pubes. That’s what they called me. Pubes because of my thick curly hair — a feature that despite my utter lack of Semitic heritage gave a number of my co-workers carte blanche to casually call me a few choice slurs. A mere week before and I had been a buck-toothed, pudgy 14-year-old on family vacation wandering around a Jelly Belly factory in Northern California. Now I was sitting in a double room at the Best Inn off of Route 81 in Staunton, Virginia, surrounded by men in sweat-soaked Confederate uniforms.
"A janky TV blared with a marathon of VH1’s “Best 100 Videos of All Time.” Through the walls above the bed headboards came a steady, rhythmic pounding from the adjacent room where a sinewy, shifty-eyed chain smoker from North Carolina was marathon fucking his wife. When they found his body beside a gas station less than a year later, no one who knew him would be surprised. Muffled jeers erupted from the other adjacent room every time the next video on the countdown wasn’t “Take On Me.”
"Every guest at the Best Inn (except that prostitute who plied her trade in the pool that one afternoon) had two things in common: we were all Civil War re-enactors and we were all temporarily on the dole of Turner pictures.
"I had been in Staunton for 48 hours. I already had a bad case of swamp ass and a mean sunburn. It was going to be a fun two weeks."
The fine folks over at LA Weekly have seen fit to publish some of my cultural musings ranging from a guided tour of sleazy Downtown Punk, a eulogy for a now gone blues bar in Exposition Park, experiential reflections on filming in Downtown Los Angeles and the story of the time someone hired me on as a Santa Claus
S.C. Mero--Alchemist and Downtown Street Artist
"Mero is keenly aware of the medium in which she works. A sign over her door reads 'Alchemist at Work.' Like her medieval predecessors, she deals in transformation. Materially, she renders unlikely items into things of value. Philosophically, S.C. Mero is intimately involved with the transmutation of the unwanted into vessels for creativity."
It's Not Too Hot for a Thrifting Trip to Tulare, California's Irrigation Riviera
"The skeptical reader may be harboring an idea that places like Tulare are mere outposts in the cultural backwater primed for exploitation. I dare you to spend a weekend there and still defend that notion.
"Tulare is not some sideshow. It’s a scene in the main act of 21st-century American life where a vast network of contradictory social phenomena, histories and resource battles collide in a web of complexity. Thrift opportunities aside, the true attraction in Tulare is a city struggling to reconcile itself to dynamic realities."
A Trip to Idyllwild Will Make You Want to Give Up City Life ... Almost
"We are pickers: the miners of the New West, the hearty few who escape the cities to explore the worked-over terrain and half-hidden ghost towns where the true treasure of today’s West manifests itself in the form of bolo ties, belt buckles, snap-button shirts and pre-worn boots. Like the ’49ers of old, we are interested in discovering and extracting hidden seams of wealth — odd as they may be.
"There are veins of discarded couture to be found just beneath the surface of small towns all across the West. Like so many walls of silver-bearing quartz, thrift shops in places like Livingston, Montana, and Durango, Colorado, invigorate the passions of pickers and feed the demands of retro-loving fashion plates in cities all over this green Earth."
A weekly cheap food and forgotten culture review highlighting lovely hovels and horrid culinary hell holes in Downtown Los Angeles. I'm searching for unlikely stories, buried treasures and palatable meals under eight dollars and seventy two cents. 8.72 is presented by Get Down Town Magazine with our new print compilation courtesy of our sponsors at Wolf & Crane, The Escondite, and Herb.
8.72 Print Edition
Our "best of" print edition is available for pick up at our sponsors The Escondite and Wolf & Crane. Hit us up online at www.getdowntown.la to secure a copy yourself.
November 21, 2017: ABC Chinese Fast Food
"We are meant to assume that the food is equally shitty because we are a society that does not know how to distinguish between the way something looks and the way it actually is. Enter influencer culture, which has established its headquarters at the opposite end of the block from ABC where Little Damage inspires people to wait in line to get a photographable cone of melt sugar."
November 16, 2017: Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken
"There is a happy middle ground that shouldn’t be too hard to find. And yet, the all-too-often result of a chicken and biscuits meal is either some pink-on-the-inside, shit-for-days fraud or a Popeyes throat-closer mess of desiccated dough."
"At the corner of 6th Stand Lucas Ave, Asian Fast Food & Grocery is a textbook example. The squat turo-turo joint gives no outward indication that is of Filipino derivation. This is perhaps a survival mechanism to help it blend in with the latino oriented tax business and liquor store across 6th St and the Pacific Dining Car across Lucas Ave."
"You’ve all been to La Cocina before. It’s that Mexican restaurant that Chile’s wanted to be. It’s got the brick arches and the murals and the comfortable booths and the bottomless chips and the colorful bar and the patio. It always seems to have a crowd. Sporting events are well attended here even though it’s unclear whether most of the people on hand are actually paying attention or are just there to numb themselves with strong drink and dancing ions flickering on a screen."
"This goes a long way in explaining 'urban revivals' and the fetish with blight that comes with it. Authenticity is an incredibly rare commodity nowadays especially given that the past few decades have been devoted to cultivating an aesthetic of authenticity complete with reclaimed wood, exposed concrete, work shirts, boots and consumerism throughout while simultaneously removing the risk of having an actual blue collar existence founded in scrounging one’s own resources."
"Like Little Damage, I feel as if PBJ.LA is a business that was crafted to capitalize on Instagram culture and the irrational fear of missing out that causes mentally feeble consumers to spend a lifetime in dutiful servitude to tastes foisted on them by vapid bloggers and food svengalis in unwitting conformity to a culture staked in fostering envy."
"The year was 2006 and I was a vegetarian. It was my first foray into compassionate dieting. One that ultimately came to grief as the swells of time pushed the flimsy raft of idealism against the shoals of my meat-friendly upbringing."
September 20, 2017: Juanita's Cafe vs. Tacos Acapulco
"Someone sketch it out for me. I’m having Jim Garrison heart palpitations trying to figure out why Lee Harvey Oswald’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee at 544 Camp Street was actually the same building that housed Fed arch anti-Communist Guy Bannister at 531 Lafayette. Add it up!"
"The strong likelihood is that no one actually gives a shit what I have to say. Given that I have this platform on which to spew opinions no one actually gives a shit about, I’ll just go out and say it: the new name of the game here in Downtown and elsewhere across America is managing expectations."
"Not out of place was their uniform high spirit. There are many manic people here, but most of the others are spiritually prepared for the security guard at 7-Eleven to bust out the door and start indiscriminately spraying liquid habanero at a man who had just stolen a Gatorade. The look of disbelief on these girls’ faces after they found themselves in the splash zone was a true Taste of Fifth Street."
"It’s apparent that the development gale has begun. To what end or benefit is uncertain. We can dicker about the morality of redevelopment until the cows come home, but for those who live or work in proximity to Café Feliz please consider this a warning."
"This burrito was an abomination, an affront to every single iota of renown that the world of Mexican food has ever earned. If given a choice between eating the whole thing and chowing down on three pieces of toast buttered with Chris Christie’s toe jam, I would have seriously considered the Jersey foot smegma."
"Beneath the sodium bomb olives and the bland cheese was a crust I can only describe as hard tack. That’s right folks, if you want to know more about the bland salt bread used as a naval ration for centuries because of its ability to endure without spoiling in the long journey around the Cape of Good Hope between India and London, here’s a chance."
"It’s a time for scalpels instead of sledgehammers. There’s likely a workable common ground somewhere in the middle of the housing debate. I don’t anticipate we’ll reach compromise any time soon because most of us are still rock hard at the idea of going nuclear with every perceived slight."
"13. Speaking of the shrimp combo, people seem to like it. After my meal, I caught up with one individual who took their Styrofoam bounty back to the hypodermic needle exchange on 4th St where their haste to dive headlong into the greasy grotto of potato and sea-crawdads was so pronounced, they simply took the bag and napkins and threw it into the street! A different, more cynical me might look at that and say, 'hmm, that carelessness could have a deleterious effect on an already beleaguered supply of fish.' We’re staying positive today!"
"Fourth of July practically reeks of cheap signaling. We love our country so much, we wear red, white and blue and listen to John Fogarty all day. How impressive. Wow. Surely, someone out there is looking in at our national celebration of self-congratulation and is instinctively filled with hate for our freedom."
"Even if the aliens made first contact with mankind at the Venice location where they instructed the snap-button staff in the esoteric art of lactating Aventinus Eisbock from their nipples and squeezing gourmet Austin Blues pork links from their bleached sphincters, Wurstküche purists would still decry the Lincoln Boulevard store as second fiddle to the original ‘Küche."
"The overall effect is the same as going to your high school reunion and meeting a vivacious and attractive woman who seems familiar in a way you can’t quite place. Then it suddenly dawns on you that despite all the airs of effortless cool, this is the same person who shit themselves during the Presidential Physical Test and has subsequently invested tens of thousands of dollars on plastic surgery to escape the stigma of that bowel movement."
"We used to call this sort of thing “compromise.” It’s a term referring to a process where one party abandons a lofty perch of pride to bridge a chasm separating reality from idealism. We used to do a lot of it here in America, but less so these days."
"Cut to ninety seconds later when I was outside jamming a Chinese sloppy joe in my face from a makeshift placemat I’d fashioned out of a hastily ripped paper bag flattened on a bird shit covered newspaper box. Verdict: pretty great!"
"Upside: I can now buy a ten dollar all black ice cream cone that will earn the envy of sugar hounds across the internet.
"Downside: I can’t feel safe walking in my own neighborhood because the savvy Downtowners that used to hang out at now evicted markets and restaurants have gone the way of the do-do while boneheaded policies, inept or absent policing, non-existent mental health checks and a Mayor who has given every indication that the problem is above and beyond his capability to administer a city on Instagram has opened the door to new dimensions of dystopia."
"I’m not alone in savoring this facet of my Angeleno identity: in a raucous metropolitan area of fourteen million, we delight in trapping ourselves in steel and glass coffins that afford an amount of tightly controlled personal space unavailable via mass transit."
"Look, if I listened to all the insults others threw at me (or a quarter of the awful, soul-scathing shit I toss at myself in the darker hours of the day), I’d be a wreck. That’s no sort of way to live life. If I’m being completely honest, it’s that sometimes I’m too lazy to ponder the byzantine web of costs that unite chefs with food providers with distribution services with big ag farms and farm supply companies and water right negotiators. That’s that."
I've worked as the Listings Editor at the LA Downtown News since July 2011. My beat is local events, culture, music and BARS.
The End Is Here: The Rise of LA's Drab Majesty
"With the spin of a parasol and an invocation, a Drab Majesty show becomes a devotion to mystery, one that is woven closed with the sorrowful howl of melancholic guitars on songs such as 'Not Just A Name.' It feeds audiences with the notion that live music can be a spiritual experience again."
"To live in L.A. is to be engulfed by creative interpretations of what it means to be human. Despite the hierarchies of class and power that undergird the Los Angeles experience, there is still a feeling as if all possibilities have their own place in a horizontal metropolis where personal expression is an essential facet of life."
Online culture magazine PopMatters very generously hosts a series of my essays examining the history and culture of Virginia via contemporary pop songs.
The first essay, Clipse and the Virginia Schism, looks at the Hampton Roads based hip hop duo's song "Virginia," the rhetoric of the crack trade and its unacknowledged roots in the ideologies of early Tidewater slavemasters.
Well, I was a contributor to this innovative film magazine that worked its way around the hip fringe of pop culture. Unfortunately, due to a dispute over an issue I was never privy to, the owners deleted the site and all of our content. So that's fun!
The Anarchist's Lookbook: Revisiting Countercultural Cinema
Built around the weekly Raw Materials Art Store sponsored Friday Night Life Drawing Class at Downtown LA's Grand Central Market, Modern Outlaws became a monthly series of twelve poses executed over two and a half hours. In that time, the life story of Modern Outlaws from Ted David Koresh to Che Guevara unfolded in an eminently draw-able collection of performance art
Theodore Kaczynski, July and August 2015
From Vernon to David: The Koresh Experience
September and October 2015
Gallagher, January 2016. Drawing by JW Pippen.
Che Does Capitalism
Che Guevara, December 2015
"Books alone are liberal and free; they give to all who ask; they emancipate all who serve them faithfully."
-Richard de Bury, Philobiblon
(etched above the Fifth Street entrance to the Los Angeles Public Library)