Monthly Archives: November 2016

Closure Blooms

Closure Blooms

I have added this link to the website for new documentary by film maker Lisa Klein, with her husband Doug Blush, producer, “The S Word.” The film is about suicide and suicide survivors, of which I am one. “Closure Blooms” is a piece about my return to the 5oth reunion of the class of 1966, the class I didn’t graduate with, because my suicide attempt ended with leaving school and a time in the mental hospital. The article was specially edited for inclusion on “The S Word’s website.

I was featured in Lisa and Doug’s previous film, “Of Two Minds,” about Bipolar Disorder. Persons with Bipolar Disorder frequently commit suicide. I have survived one serious attempt told in “Closure Blooms,” as a young student, and one almost attempt when much later in life I became a crack cocaine addict. Crack cocaine was my failing self-medication for the severe depression of the mental condition I have always had, but didn’t know about when I was a student. Bipolar Disorder wasn’t a diagnosis 50 years ago.

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Donald Trump’s Naked Lunch

 

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Trump is trumped by William Burroughs, who in 1959 invented Islam, Inc.

Islam Inc. was forbidden to meet with five miles of Interzone, a hallucinatory city that sound very American.

In Naked Lunch, William Borroughs wrote:

“I was working for an outfit known as Islam Inc., financed by A.J. the notorious Merchant of Sex, who scandalized international society when he appeared at the Duc de Ventre’s ball as a walking penis covered by a huge condom emblazoned with with the A.J. motto: They shall not pass.” …………. every conceivable Arab party make up the rank and file and attend the actual meetings from which the higher-ups prudently abstain. Though the delegates are carefully searched at the door, these gatherings invariably culminate in riots. Speakers are often doused with gasoline and burned to death, or some uncouth desert Sheik opens up on his opponents with a machine gun he concealed in the belly of a pet sheep. Nationalist martyrs with grenades up the ass mingle with the assembled conferents and suddenly explode, occasioning heavy casualties……….Interzone has an ordinance forbidding a meeting of Islam, Inc. with five miles of the city limits.”

Burroughs knew you shall not let those Radical Islamist pass, but then again he was a Harvard boy, heroin addict and a notorious queer.

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Art Washing in East Los Angeles

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A response to Los Angeles Times articles of November 3 and 4 on protests in Boyle Heights over gentrification by white artists and art galleries.

Art and artists washing clean city sections and neighborhoods for gentrification is an old story. Artists and art galleries created value in places previously undervalued. What is new is the awareness of neighborhoods that art is mainly a monetary subterfuge and not a stimulus to improving real communities. The American story begins in New York City in the 1940s, when artists seeking inexpensive places to create their work discovered Soho, a largely abandoned industrial district, then known as the Cast Iron District, after its distinctive cast iron-fronted warehouse lofts. They moved in and established the homeland of Abstract Expressionism. The galleries followed– Leo Castelli, OK Harris, and others. The bohemian free lifestyle of the artists attracted the life style wannabes. Soon enough, the developers, sniffing profits, moved in. Now it is hard to find a struggling artist in this fashionable neighborhood. The same tale happened in Los Angeles. Venice, the slum by the sea, afforded another generation of artists an inexpensive place to create their light, space, and west coast pop creations in the old storefronts of the destroyed amusement park zone. In came the lifestylers and the property speculators. The majority of the not famous artists were priced out. Then it was downtown’s turn to be the washing machine of gentrification.

In the abandoned and unreinforced buildings of downtown LA east of Alameda, young and not-so-young artists in the late 1970s and ‘80s found amazing cheap and large space that they could inhabit and work in. It was illegal to live there initially, but art promoters, like Joel Wachs, then an LA city councilman, saw the potential. (Wachs moved on to become head of the Andy Warhol Foundation in New York City.) The A.I.R. (Artist in Residence) ordinance was approved. Some artists and their supporters opposed the ordinance because they had seen what had happened in New York and Venice. Approving artist living and working in industrial zones was the preamble to gentrification and soaring property values. The ordinance was approved and later modified to make it easier to speculate in downtown property to become the Live-Work Ordinance. Property values soared and artists were gradually priced out of what the city proudly declared was the Art District.

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                Low cost artist housing by Watts Community Housing on Myers Street,

                                                    East Los Angeles designed in 1985

 The Boyle Heights Alliance Against Art Washing and Displacement protested in front of the new Nicodim Gallery in a building near the Los Angeles River in an area of old industrial lofts. Someone anonymously painted graffiti on the gallery’s roll-up metal gate “White Art.” The Los Angeles Police Department declared the vandalism to be a “Hate Crime.” The story and the response are misdirection. The protesters are partially right and partially wrong. The police action will only benefit the wrong groups. The graffiti artist apparently knows nothing of the history of Boyle Heights.

Artists had lofts in the area of old warehouses and industrial buildings between the LA River and the 101 back in 1980s. The truth is that this area isn’t Boyle Heights. Boyle Heights exist on the ridge above what was the bottomland on both sides of the river. The 101 Freeway cut it completely off from Boyle Heights in the 1950s. A cluster of lofts existed by 1984 at the east end of the Third Street Bridge. Because the river and the railroads separated this sliver from the zone of the Arts District speculation, it is the last area of lofts to be gentrified at the perimeter of Downtown LA. There were even a few forlorn galleries off Third Street East of the river.

In 1985 there was some political support for creating low cost artist housing to mitigate the inevitable already happening west of the river. Development of downtown Los Angeles was a political goal of elected officials and real estate promoters. The East LA portion of the growing art scene was too far removed to stimulate interest. However, The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) funded the design of a low cost artist housing project on Myers Street in East LA. The project promoted by The Watts Community Housing Corporation never got beyond the design stage, however, as financing for the purchase of the building and re-construction could not be obtained. The timing was too early. Major real estate speculation had yet to begin. Also the construction of low cost housing for one specific group, mainly white, with a smattering of black and Latino artists is not a popular concept. It wasn’t then nor is it now.

Today the situation, with the saturation of Live Work spaces and the almost complete displacement of artists from the Arts District, has changed. Galleries, part of a worldwide art community selling artifacts for tens of thousands of dollars, like the Nicodim Gallery, have moved in. The threat isn’t to this area between the 101 and the river. What will happen is already a done deal. The threat is to the real Boyle Heights lying to the East. Around Hollenbeck Park are many late Victorian homes and early 20th Century dwellings survivors of the historic Boyle Heights before it became the center of Los Angeles’ Latino, generally Mexican-American, neighborhood. Boyle Heights before the decline of downtown was the center of Los Angeles’ Jewish and Japanese-American communities. From First Street to Whittier Boulevard, including the wonderful Hollenbeck Park, later sliced by the freeway, lived the core of discriminated-against communities.

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Boyle Heights tract, 1889

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Hollenbeck Park, 2009

After blatant discrimination crumbled with the move westward of the Jewish community, and the concentration of the Japanese community in Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights became largely Hispanic. A vibrant community came into existence with a distinctive Latin flavor. Its murals became a hallmark and the precursor to a larger mural movement that is the most significant public art in Los Angeles. Self-Help Graphics created a world-renowned and affordable art print center. Defenders of this community and its culture are right to protest vehemently the gentrification that will creep up the hill eastward from its downtown edge along the river. What is different here is that there was and is a significant population with a divergent ethnic interest in Boyle Heights. It is working class and middle class with a strong sense of community identity that occupies a zone with attractive and large houses. These Victorian and early 20th Century edifices are strongly attractive to gentrifiers and house flippers. If allowed to come in unchecked, a neighborhood that is significant to the broad diversity of Los Angeles will be lost.

Art washing is analogous to cleaning your sheets of the grime and smell. You end up with nice white bed linen, but all the character of their use is gone. In downtown Los Angeles in the early ‘80s, artists reveled in the fact they shared a similar passion for dumpster diving with the filthy homeless, who were generally never a threat of violence. They gave the area a certain allure and drove away the fearful. With gentrification, the wandering, often naked, homeless are gone, but crime is the big community concern. Crime depresses property values. If gentrification comes to Boyle Heights, the sights and smells that made this decidedly Latin community wonderful will disappear. Crime maybe lessened. The terrific and inexpensive taco stands that draw citywide favor will be replaced by fancy nouvelle cuisine eateries. The man with the umbrella cart on the sidewalk selling fresh papaya slices will be illegalized.

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Victorian House in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles

 

 

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Article, Culture, Los Angeles, Racism

Cairo Killed, the American Nightmare 2016

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Cairo, (pronounced Kay-ro), Illinois, lies at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This town was murdered. White right wing racism killed it. The ruin is testament to the negative forces of American history. What I saw, quite by accident, reminds me of our situation in 2016 with the candidacy of the demagogue Republican Donald Trump.

We were lost after crossing the two bridges between Missouri and Kentucky on our trip across the United States in April. After visiting the Kentucky mounds of the ancient Indian civilization from long before there was an American republic, we took the wrong road toward our destination of Harrodsburg in bourbon country. Our backtrack landed us in the southern tip of Illinois, in an area called Little Egypt, where we saw four wrecks of 19th Century buildings off the main highway at the intersection of Commercial and 7th Streets. Elegant old street lamps lined the streets. The biggest structure, the Famous-Barr building, was vacant. A large pile of bricks could be seen through an open doorway and the destroyed back wall. The second building, its ground floor boarded up, had two old battered air conditioning units projecting from upper story and an older model panel truck parked at the curb. The third building was a seedy looking nightclub, its exterior painted pale blue. The gap of a demolished building separated the nightclub from the fourth, a three-story empty structure. We drove over to have a closer look. I was shocked. Neither side of street that extended six blocks north had any buildings, yet the lovely old street lamps remained in place on a broad sidewalk in front of grass or rubble-covered properties. I photographed the ruins while elderly man in a power-operated wheelchair rode down the eerily empty street.

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Cairo, Illinois, in the 1970s already an nearly dead city

After reaching our final destination in Pennsylvania, I researched the history of Cairo. What I found was a devastating history. Cairo was destroyed by racism. The town’s commercial buildings and industries were owned by white people who refused to hire the black population of the city. In the 1960s, Little League baseball was canceled to keep black children from playing. By 1969 black people were not allowed to gather for sports, to march, or to congregate in local parks. A racist white man rammed his pickup truck into a demonstration protesting a whites-only swimming pool, severely injuring a young girl. The vigilante group called the White Hats policed the town. In 1969 the African-Americans formed the United Front of Cairo to end segregation and boycott white businesses. The white business owners refused to give in, choosing instead to close up their shops. They abandoned their businesses and fled town. Slowly most of the idle buildings were demolished. By 2010 the population was 2,800 persons of whom 72% were black.

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Civil rights protesters in the 1960’s

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This sad story typifies the long history of a city that was once, before St. Louis arose, the main terminal of shipping and crossing on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In 1838 Cairo was booming, growing to 15,000 at its largest by 1900. A grid of four by six blocks defined the center of this metropolis-to-be located on land near where Lewis and Clark first camped to begin their exploration of the upper reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. A quay along the Ohio River edge serviced the ferries and the steamboats that paddled up from New Orleans and across the two big rivers. During the Civil War General Grant used Cairo as his supply and troop headquarters for the invasion of the South. During this period slaves sought freedom by escaping to the protection of the Union stronghold at Cairo. The town was an important transfer point on the Underground Railway.

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Postcard of mid-20th Century with automobile bridges

This was the beginning of a large African-American population in the city, much to the annoyance of the white inhabitants. The railroads finally killed the boom in Cairo when the Eads Bridge, completed in 1874 and the longest arch bridge in world at the time, crossed the Mississippi, directing river traffic north to St. Louis. In 1905 the decline was complete when a new railroad bridge crossed the Mississippi at Thebes, a town northwest of Cairo, ending the ferry traffic. After the automobile bridges bypassed the city in the 20th Century, the capitol of Little Egypt became an isolated backwater controlled by a white majority. Yet throughout the late 19th and 20th Centuries Cairo had a large African-American population that was routinely discriminated against. The population of Cairo by 1909 was approximately 13,000 of which 5,000 were African American, a high percentage for a small town that considered itself a place with white traditional southern white heritage.

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November 11, 1909 Lynching of Will “Froggie” James

On November 11, 1909, tensions exploded, a lynch mob hung two men. The first was the African-American Will James, accused of murdering Alla Pelly, a young white woman. The mob strung him up below the arch of new electric lights on Commercial Street at the corner of 8th, one block down from the surviving remnants of the town. Will “Froggie” James didn’t die as intended. The raging population pulled the hung, but still living, James, down from the rope strung across Commercial Street. They burned him, dismembered him, and mounted his head on a pole. James, before he died, implicated another man whom the town pursued without success. They did find a white man, Henry Salzner, who had been on the run for nearly a year for slaying his wife. The mob strung him up too, but didn’t inflict the savagery on him that they did to “Froggie.” He was white, after all.

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Will “Froggie” James, November, 1909

101 years have passed since the racially inspired slaughter. “Kayro’s” KO-ed center is a total ruin. What’s left is an outlying ring of poor black people’s homes, a few imposing monuments of the past glories: the United States Customs House, the mansion Magnolia Manor of 1872, and a sad commercial strip on the highway north. Donald Trump would probably call this a ghetto, as he famously referred to African-American neighborhoods in bigger, more northern American cities. However the last time a grassroots conservative Republican presidential candidate with southern states’ rights and anti-civil rights views visited Cairo in Little Egypt, there were a lot of white people still around. They have mainly gone now to warmer, more hospitable places, like the aptly named Phoenix, Arizona. Here racists rising from Cairo’s ashes can rail against “Mexican rapists.”

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Barry Goldwater in Cairo, Illinois, 1964

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