Tag Archives: LA

Transacting the Humanity out of Society

Commerce. Transcations. Goods. Units. Revenue. Profit. Growth. Market. Market share. Margin. Money. Money. Stuff. Stuff. More. More. More.

More work, more money, more time, more things. So much. So-so, much.IMG_0044

I walked through LA’s Santee Alley in the fashion district. There were crowds of us walking right next to each other looking at $1 sticks of lipstick that claimed to be MAC and $10 shoes that looked exactly like Chuck Taylors save the Converse logo. T-shirts, piñatas, skin tight pants and bustiers went on for blocks and blocks. The people behind the counters or in the isles hocking goods did not appear to be particularly concerned with makeup or fashion, they were interested in transactions. They were merchants, not artisans.IMG_1475

That same day, only a few miles away I strolled through The Grove. The street is wide enough for the double decker trolley to roll on its tracks and still allow the crowds to meander in safety. There the MAC lipstick is $25, the Chuck Taylors are $50. You can easily find skin tight jeans and bustiers (maybe not piñatas) but they will all be much more expensive. Still, the people selling them were just retailers. They may be better funded consumers, but they are not artisans, just merchants.

It is hard to comprehend or appreciate the grand scale of how many dollars and units pass through these places daily, monthly, yearly. The volume of dollars, the hours spent creating, shipping, distributing and retailing is almost incalculable. Almost. No- not true. They are absolutely calculable and that is why they, we, go through the trouble. We are making calculations and transactions because that is what we do. It is how we live. It is who we are, or at least it is who we have become. We are a society of consumers on a grand scale.

Walk through any mall in any suburb in any state and amid all those people buying, selling, and transacting, what you will rarely find is a person behind the counter doing what they love. So many of them, of us, me, are not following passions but just doing things and tasks to get by. We are trying to make it, and by make it I mean pay the rent. Maybe pay for our kids to do something they like. Maybe. Some of the people doing the buying may appear a little happier, but they are only visiting, this isn’t what they do to survive. Many of the buyers in malls are simply enduring. They are on an errand to get some sort of affordable necessity, meaning it is what the other kids are wearing and not conforming will cause discomfort. Maybe they are like me and have gained ten pounds and two inches resulting in the need for a new pair of Hagar slacks. Navy blue non-iron with those invisible stretchy side tabs allowing for the 5 extra pounds still to come. But in that mall is a fountain that no one stops to look at, a sculpture by an artist with no name, and performances attended only by parents and friends.

And the scale is astonishing.

Commerce. Transcations. Goods. Units. Revenue. Profit. Growth. Market. Market share. Margin. Money. Money. Stuff. Stuff. More. More. More.

More work, more money, more time, more things. So much. So- so, much.

I see all those widgets and things and the time and the effort and the dollars going strictly to transactions and I feel dread.IMG_4296

I feel that dread because I have also seen people struggle to pay the rent or buy food. I have known people whose entire existence is a struggle for the day to day necessities of life. I have seen people turn to crime or medication, or wish for death, because they cannot get their hands on enough money to flush the toilet, or heat the stove, or pay tuition, or drive a car. These people will never have need of a financial planner or investment manager. These people will never need a real estate agent, stylist, or consultant. There are plenty of things they will need, they are obvious, but they won’t, or don’t, get them. And what is even worse, is that these people will likely never be able to spend their hours doing things they love. They will look inside themselves and see their own value, and they will feel passion for this or that, and they won’t ever get to go there or do that, for any meaningful period of time.

Anything neglected over time will wither and die. Plants, muscles, passions, and self worth.

I was and have been told, that there is no helping others, at least not on a societal level. I have been told that the problem is the poor themselves. I have heard and been told and been taught, that the answer is God and that things must stay this way till God comes to Earth and everything becomes heaven by magic. I am quoted the scripture that says the poor will always be with us and that I should just do my best to care for me and mine. It is odd that despite my belief in God, real, actual belief, I don’t believe that. I can’t and I won’t.

I cannot believe that we humans must wait for divine intervention because we lack the knowledge will or ability to help the poor huddled masses- because I have seen Santee Alley and the Grove. I have seen and watched and participated in the wonder of producing, shipping, distributing, warehousing, selling, and consuming of piles and piles and dollars worth of stupid pointless things. The drive for dollars and plastic toys or mascara, or a fourth pair of shoes, has made distance from China to Arizona irrelevant. It has made the state of oil in the ground and rubber solidified into soles of shoes the monetary equivalent of a night at the movies. We pay millions to individuals, and billions to businesses, whose sole purpose is getting a ball through a hoop. We spend millions of dollars and millions of hours to risk our lives climbing mountains for the sole reason of saying that we did. We do all of that all of the time.

And we have to wait for God to come to Earth to find jobs for poor people? It will take Jesus and Armageddon to educate immigrants?

It makes no sense at all. None. No sense in that I see the merchants in the alley who do not love these little trinkets and have no passion for taking money in exchange for toys- but yet they do it. Every day they do it. I see the people buying things at the mall and they don’t really love that stuff and the teenagers who work there hate the stuff, and even the manufacturers who make the stuff could care less what stuff they make as long as there is profit. There is no love in it at all and I cannot stand it.

We have sacrificed passion, craft, and humanity on the altar of efficiency and revenue. We killed the unblemished lamb and blessed it with the name of free market capitalism. We have slaughtered the scapegoat and called it communism. We have made these sacrifices and at the end I fear we don’t have blessings just dead animals. I have this fear because I know so many good people doing great things, yet they, like me, remain a foundational part of the problem.

I know a doctor who spent decades studying and suffering to earn the ability to save lives, and now that he does in fact save people’s lives, he bought himself a motorcycle in addition to his every day car just for fun and because he has earned it. Meanwhile the life of the person whose life he has saved is in shambles because the insurance won’t cover the procedures and now he cannot afford to sustain his newly saved life. I know of a farmer who toiled with dirt and with books till he accumulated enough money and knowhow to industrialize. Now he makes a fortune producing food that is shipped around the world to feed the poor yet those who still work on his farm are mostly undocumented because those with rights cannot afford to live off the wages the farmer pays and those without rights have no choice but to try.

We have inhaled so completely the myth of American meritocracy that we feel we deserve the good we get and that others deserve the bad. We believe that the freedom we covet is inherently tied to private property and capital yet turn a blind eye to the correlating truth that tying freedom to those things robs the poor of all hope to be free. Every business person I know will parrot the axiom that it takes money to make money, knowing full well the poor don’t have any, and the act of loaning anything to the poor is so remarkable that doing so at a non-predatory rate will win you a Nobel Prize. Watching and hearing this is infuriating and it is easy to see why so many who care for the poor from some religious obligation could lose hope in humanity and resign themselves to wait for deity. Not me. The deity I know has never really forced the human hand and while there is definitely drama in divine interactions, they are not normally mixed with direct compulsion. Destruction maybe, but not forced action. In addition, humanity has an amazing, even godlike capacity, to strike out and accomplish whatever it is they, or we, decide we wish to do.

So the question is not, nor has it ever really been, “how do we solve world hunger?” or just, “how do we help the poor,” but rather “how do we decide to help the poor?” or “How do we convince ourselves to put people above profit?” It is all about the will. And this lack of will, or our misplaced will, is where my feelings get hurt. Because we, as a whole, have so readily and foundationally dedicated ourselves and our will to something, or everything, that so many of us simply don’t care about.

We dedicate ourselves to daily work, because we believe we have to, and our heart is not in it. Meanwhile, we gloss over or walk past, things, or activities, or people, in which or in whom we would and could so easily invest, but we do not. We cordon off our hearts and passions as extracurricular or as hobbies and see charitable donations as a tax exemption, viewing poverty as a political issue. Some discover and chase passion projects or are lucky enough to synchronize fulfillment and career, and they are almost always beginning in the middle or upper class.

If we can create a world where we can pull oil from the ground in Wyoming, ship it to China where it is formed into a Shopkin, then ship it back to California and sell it by the truckloads at Target for $2 per trinket, we can do anything we want.

Is it possible that we could restructure in a way that those who are currently laboring with transactions with no heart at all could instead follow their passions and still fill their belly? Isn’t that what a 1st world society should be? Would we be less efficient and productive? Probably. Could we craft a true meritocracy that enables the ambitious without crushing the lost and lowly? Maybe. But maybe we would also be better. Not better on an income statement or maybe not even better quality products all the time but possibly we would be better people.

Maybe. I don’t know. I do not have the detailed answers but I am convinced they exist. Maybe the one who has, or who could, decipher the answers is right now making change from a five dollar bill for someone who wants to buy a one dollar stick of lipstick.

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In Search of Truth: the Donut Hole

These are times of trouble and contention, often exaggerated through online debate or trolling. While this rancor is deplorable I must admit I may have found myself growling and lurking beneath a digital bridge here and there. For example, about a week ago a friend lamented on Facebook that he was kept up at night perplexed at the injustice that while there exists chocolate covered donuts, there are no such things as chocolate covered donut holes.17191369_10154450887079071_6557449346783348749_n

He posted this as a statement of fact.

While I am no expert on donuts or pastries in general, his statement appeared unresearched and I found it hard to believe that such a culinary gap was the case. Perhaps chocolate covered donut holes were rare, but nonexistent? There is a whole wide world out there. How could anyone make such absolute statements without thorough investigation? Had he really been everywhere?

So I investigated.IMG_6540

A few Google searches and a couple phone calls later I rose up grunting and growling from under the bridge to confront my friend’s foolish statement. “You are wrong! You say they don’t exist but that’s wrong. I know where they are because I am smart and the internet gave me a different answer than yours so I win!” Having made my point so powerfully and with such fancy words, and exclamation points, I was a bit taken aback when despite my obvious victory a delegation was immediately assembled to investigate my claims.

The website said they stay open till 2AM so despite it being 9PM on a Thursday I was told a minivan was on its way to get me. We made it there in 20 minutes.

The Donut Hole in La Puente, CA is a perfect example of novelty design, kitsch, and everything the state of California stood for in the mid-20th Century. It is a giant drive-through donut. There may have been some way to access the place on foot but I couldn’t see it. Instead we drove that van right into the hole to find ourselves surrounded by well-lit glass cases and the sweet, wonderful, glorious, American obesity epidemic. Éclairs, maple bars, cronuts, and this giant glazed thing they called the Texan called out to us with the words “cash only”. We threw handfuls of cash out the window and in return received diabetes.IMG_6531

Along with all that sugar I was also served a half helping of crow. Over the phone, through admittedly broken English, I was promised chocolate covered donut holes. What I got was a pile of glazed donut holes drizzled with chocolate and sprinkles. It was decided that these did not perfectly match the original description and thereby did not represent evidence enough to contradict my friend’s original statement. I am of course a gracious man and accepted that I had not proven my point, but my friend was unwilling to be open to the idea that our failure did not in fact prove his. What an unreasonable ideologue. He was, and dare I say still is, so entrenched in his unfounded and unproven beliefs that he is not open to the idea that alternate philosophy may refute his. No. He would not bend.

He demands proof.

Please send proof to brohammas@gmail.comIMG_6542

 

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That Place With All the Lights: LACMA

The first thing I saw when I walked in the doors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was a giant portrait of a guy wearing a kilt. The little plaque at the bottom said the subject shared my last name which obviously required me to like it.

But it wasn’t my favorite.peoplelights

I gravitate toward American artists, like the Eakins they had there, but at LACMA this was also not my favorite. Nor the Rembrandt. Not even the Picasso exhibition which came complete with a guard who tells you to stop taking pictures, even though the painting were picture worthy- still not my favorite.people0

I think LACMA had squeakier floors, more construction, and just plain more wear and tear than most of the museums I have been too, definitely more than the Broad or the Barnes, but what made up for it, what became my favorite, was the people.people7

It wasn’t quite like some other places where you go inside and the only people there are retirees wearing clothing from the gift shop and bus loads full of middle-schoolers on field trips. No. This was more like if all those people who run up the Rocky steps in Philadelphia, then proceeded inside the museum. No one in Philly actually goes inside that place, in LA, they do.people5

I will not forward that the art is better, or that the patrons appreciate it more, just that there were more of the folks you see out on the streets- inside.people4

People of all sorts are always my favorite.people6

But aside from them, what LACMA did best, at least in my Philistine opinion, is what California has always done best.

Mid-mod.surfboard

The Eames duo were not LA natives, but no one is. But those chairs go with those paintings, which work in those normally awful (shall we say severe) buildings, and they then find themselves in LACMA.eams

Yeah… they have other stuff there too:picassoclaw

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Venice Beach: exactly what you expect

There are in fact canals through the neighborhoods of Venice California, just like in that other place in Italy, but I’m pretty sure that is where the similarities end. I’ve never been to Italy so I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess the other Venice doesn’t feature a nearly nude bearded man on roller skates selling what he ensures everyone is a “medicinal” plant.freak showI didn’t take a picture of captain roller hair, I did not want that image captured, but that doesn’t mean I don’t advocate for the venue. Quite the opposite. You really should go there.

Just know what to expect.Every city has its place where the odd-balls go to commune. Portland makes the argument that they are that place for the whole United States, but Venice Beach is a little bit more. you see, there are places where “weird people” go to be with each other, and then there is Venice where people go to BE weird in hopes of being seen.IMG_5384

I mean, this is LA. Everyone is trying to get discovered, why would society’s outskirts be different?

drum circleSo, as you head to the promenade be ready for:
Your general knick-knack vendors, medical marijuana card vendors, crowds, people who are crazy, people who are high, people pretending to be high or crazy, drum circles, people riding beach cruisers, good street music, muscly folks working out at Muscle Beach, almost homeless artists selling art, homeless people selling almost art, pick-up basketball games on the outdoor courts ala “He Got Game”, street performers break dancing, street performers snake charming, street performers being a human statue, teenagers acting like this is Vegas, trash in the sand at the beach, a great skate park, beautiful sunsets, funnel cakes, hot dogs, beach houses too expensive to afford, signs advertising the world’s smallest front yard, a sign advertising the world’s laziest dog, cops looking uninterested, cops looking interested, and sometimes, you will see me.mewalkinvenice

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Two Story Balloon Animals: the Broad

It is pronounced “the Broed”. Rhymes with road. Or perhaps an active Bro as a past tense verb. “You totally broed it”. But no matter how you say it, you need to see it.IMG_3414

It is free but you need to reserve a ticket in advance. Otherwise you wait outside in a stand by line for as little as 45  minutes. I dropped the Missus off to stand in line while I spent nearly that much time trying to find parking. There is of course a conveniently located lot right across the street but I thought I could win by finding something cheaper.

Just park in the lot across the street. You cannot win.IMG_3401

Save the winning for once you are inside because in there you will find Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, Basquiat, Jeff Koon’s giant balloon animals, and his ceramic sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles.IMG_3329You should not need to “understand” art to be entertained, or to simply know what you like. That being said, for a museum of modern art, there is more than enough for anyone to like at the Broad. I more than liked it. I loved it.IMG_3328And if Art isn’t really your bag, you can simply sit back and watch the people watching the art. That show is just as good.IMG_3406

It is located in downtown LA, right across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and just up the hill from the Grand Central Market. You will see a bright white honeycombed building standing next to a chromed out wavy building and you will not find street parking near either. Again. Just park in the lot. The Broad is the honeycombed one with the line of people out front.IMG_3409Keith Haring

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SK Donuts & Croissant

A cronut is a doughnut made from croissant dough. It is deep fried, sugared, filled, glazed, and it is heaven in your mouth. The Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York invented the thing and trademarked it in 2013. I do not live in New York, and consequentially, I am in full endorsement of trademark infringement for the greater good.SKdonut

The cronut, and the bakery that spawned it, are rather high end, unlike my budget. S.K. Donuts is decidedly NOT high end and open 24 hours. Forget which end is in play here and just know that no matter what these things are legally named, you should eat one. Or seven.SKCronuts

I had one topped with Nutella and peanut butter, filled with cream. Topping anything with Nutella feels a little bit like cheating, but to stick with my extralegal theme here, I don’t care. It was great.SKdonutinside

The menu is always in flux but the quality is as reliable as the hours. It is worth a drive.

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The Food is So Much Better Than the Name: Eggslut

Los Angeles is not a shy city, nor am I a shy guy, but something about this place makes me pause just a little when people ask for good places to eat in town. Especially when my 12 year old daughter asks where we are headed for lunch.

While I may pause, not only do I still go, but I encourage you to do the same.

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These folks have been featured everywhere. In Flight Magazine, every style or travel magazine in existence, and every food blogger alive has recommended Eggslut. So trendiness aside, because it is that, they have picked one singular food item, the egg, and just slapped it on everything worth eating, and it works.IMG_2544

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