The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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(April 18, 2008)

         "Inside, the colors and design scheme also scream for a hip, tech-savvy crowd."---L.A. Downtown News.

          Oh, my, where do I start?
          How about here: many, many (many) years ago, I was at party where someone had hooked an enormous eight-armed hookah to an aquarium pump. The hookah was packed with good old pre-super-pot pot. The pump provided each inhalee with the hit of the century.
          I remember exactly one conversation from the party (quite a feat), in which a fellow was carrying on to spellbound listeners about redoing his apartment with a lot of old-fashioned bathtubs, and stocking them with live trout.
          (Not bad.)
          I wonder, sometimes, if that guy is designing new L.A.. No, I take that back---he should be designing new L.A.. Most of the recent structures in this town possess every bit as much charm and beauty as Larry King. To wit, I give you. . .
          The Canvas L.A. Apartments.
          If you drive the Harbor Freeway through downtown, and all the best people do, ladies and gentlemen, you have nearly collided with them. The Canvas L.A. Apartments have all the élan of a cardboard box, all the lyricism of a cat box, all the architectural allure of stacked crates. One-bedrooms start at $2,090. Three bedrooms: $5,500. And not a trout in a bathtub.
          Ah, but none of that should surprise, right? Style-free style is characteristic of developers’ gang- rape of L.A.. Their only rule: build as many units as you can legally shoehorn into every square inch of available space, and build on any location, no matter how ungainly, unlikely. Call the results hip and nouveau and “desireable,” put a “screening room” and gym inside, project naked female shadow forms dancing in some of the vacant units (to stir up interest), and people will come.
          Thus we have Canvas L.A. Apartments, which are right next to the Harbor Freeway.
          That’s “next,” the way Kirstie Alley’s right thigh is next to her left.
          Right. I don’t mean under the freeway, or beside it, with a minimum building code requirement splotch of green in between. I don’t mean in the general vicinity. I mean that when you look out your 18-foot Canvas L.A. Apartment “loft” window, you are at eye-level with asphalt, sunglasses, gritted teeth, and gridlock. Couple of drunk drivers, and you wind up with an Escalade in your toilet. “Freeway close” used to mean a mile or two. At the Canvas, it means a mite or two.
          I mean, I’d be staggered if there was as much as 30 feet between Canvas L.A. Apts. and the mad-dog-fuck-you-asshole-I-gotta-gun L.A. car carnival. Of course, as the nuclear-perky Canvas L.A. Apt. rep, “Jody,” told me over the phone when I called for some info (“how soon do you want to move in!” was her greeting), the freeway view is “sort of interesting” and is “definitely great for downtown-watching!”
          Gee, I don’t know about you, Jody, but traffic is just not my idea of interesting scenery. There are lots of other things I’d rather watch, such as homeless guys urinating, or a dog taking a dump. I’d even rather watch the quasi-naked female shadow dance projections in vacant Canvas L. A. apartments, as has been the case with Fox, ABC, and NBC “news,” which “covered” this “event.” Eyewitless News. What brain-fryingly, turn-in-your-human-card banal promotion.
          But as I was saying, oh my, where do I start? There are several reasons I am writing this, aside from an excuse to bring up the trout-bathtub anecdote, and to castigate the sheer thundering greedfreak stupidity of the Canvas L.A. Apartments. And aside from the fact that I feel sorry for people who will dwell in them (there were no freeway-view takers as of this week!) No, not because residents will have a tableau of L.A. traffic out their quadruple-paned glass (really) windows, but because they won’t mind having a tableau of L.A. traffic out their quadruple-paned glass windows---or paying two grand a month for it.
          Who in the H.G. Wells are these 21st century mutants? And what are they smuggling---I mean, doing---to get that kind of money?
          Oh, did I say two grand? Wait a sec---make that $2,550 for the 900-square-foot freeway-in-your-face “lofts.” Yes, folks, L.A. has gone this insane. Next will be townhouses abutting the L.A. Hyperion Sewage Processing Plant, each unit lined with giant Odor-Eaters.
          Well, the other reason I am writing about the Canvas L.A. Apartments (so named because they have color-changing panels, so hoop-te-doo help me gawd), dear patient readers, is a long-deceased fellow by the name of Hugh Douglas Brown.
          Mr. Brown resided in an crumbly old beige flat-roofed stucco building of his own design that once roughly occupied the same spot as the Canvas L.A. Apartments. No one will remember it, probably, or him, except me. That’s because I interviewed him for the Herald-Examiner, and wrote a feature that appeared April 28, 1980, on page three. The headline:
          “He’s the William Buckley of the Harbor Freeway.
          My lede:
          “Hugh Douglas Brown’s targets are passing automobiles, and his weapons are words.”
          Brown was a cantankerous old cuss who felt disassociated and misanthropic and generally passed by---kind of like The Rip Post---and decided to needle the world about it. (Kind of like The Rip Post!) Or at least to needle the good politically concerned Commuter-Americans on the freeway. So he posted big crude spray-painted plywood signs for the amusement of the Great Gridlocked Morose. You couldn’t miss them. One, “Senior Citizen Center---First American Camp,” was static. The others changed every few weeks. A few samples:
          “Carter Has Got to Take Hostages---150 Iranians to Protect the U.S. Hostages.”
          “Fonda and Hayden, Our Communist Neighbors, Want Russia to Take Over.”
          “Did He Throttle Her Or Just Let Her Drown?---Chappaquiddick.”
(Teddy Kennedy was running for president that year.)
          I had hoped to find an affable, playful crank behind the signs, in order to write a whimsical and affectionate feature, but instead found an unapologetically stodgy and grumbly 82-year-old. “Crusty,” defined. Not to mention nearly deaf, thanks to decades of not having quadruple-paned glass Canvas L.A. Apartment windows.
          We sat for an hour or so inside his freeway-sooty little house, decorated in a way common to old people living alone: lots of musty throw rugs, worn-out furniture, piles and piles of books and magazines and flotsam (some jetsam, too.) I noted in the article a book called “Mars 5,” written by. . .Brown. “As you can see,” he told me, “I write a little science fiction, too.” Well, why not. His life bordered on it.
          We chatted, old Brown and I---or rather, shouted over the freeway white noise, a wall of sound to shame Spector. He carried on about having variously been a lawyer, newspaper reporter, teacher, and an amateur “rock hound” (geologist) who eventually became the curator of “the greatest exhibit of minerals, fossils, gems, crystals ever assembled in the state.” Something he called the “Westonian Institute,” the remains of which were laid out in the dusty basement of his dusty home. Grade school classes, he said, used to come visit on field trips, to see the rocks.
          Finally I asked the $2,550 question: why did he live next to the freeway?
          “Nobody should have to live next to a freeway,” he roared. “I didn’t have to, and in fact, I didn’t. There used to be trees and shrubs outside, and that freeway was 40 feet away.”
          Good old, ever-widening, house-gobbling L.A. freeways!
          So Brown spent his waning years with the Harbor Freeway as his roommate, listening to recorded magazines from the Braille Institute (he was also legally blind), wandering over to the Grand Central Market for groceries, and once in a while hosting a few old cronies for dinner. After which, they would gather around the big double-keyboard mahogany organ at the far end of the living room, where the old boy would concretize and serenade.
          Just as he did at the end of my interview. (See great Chris Gulker photo.) As I wrote:
          “You know this one?” he asked, and his creaky hands and feet moved with sudden alacrity to stale pedals and white keys that looked like tobacco-stained teeth. A rhythm box tick-tocked a bossa-nova beat. Truck brakes squealed. Brown’s eyes were bright, and the old organ moaned:
          “Pack up all your cares and woes
          Here I go,
          Singing low,
          Bye-bye blackbird. . .”

          It was peculiar, ridiculous, poignant all wrapped together. You know, like life.
          Re-reading the article, I got to thinking: would anybody half as interesting as Brown live in the Canvas L.A. Apartments?Would TV turn out to interview  someone posting spray-painted signs, if there were no nudie shadow dancers? As a friend of mine put it, “People like Brown made L.A. a place. People who live in the Canvas L.A. apartments make L.A. a figment of their imagination.” Quite. Trend-suckled smiley caricatures of emptiness starring in their own narcissistic two-grand-a-month movie. . .
          So whenever I pass the Canvas L.A. Apartments with the freeway view that they boast as a (gasp) selling point, and the very cool color-changing panels on the outside, I think of old Hugh Douglas Brown living out his last years in that oddball house, going deaf from his own freeway view, declaring, “Nobody should have live next to a freeway,” playing mischievous political commentator/troll to passers-by, and sitting alone at night, singing “Bye-Bye Blackbird” at the organ.
          As far as I’m concerned, they ought to name that sillyass apartment building after him.
          And make “Bye Bye Blackbird” the official song of developer-raped Los Angeles.

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