Evan Lavender-Smith has let us into a world of strife and angst, love and discovery in his musings found in From Old Notebooks. How does parataxis function in this narrative that makes the language found here that of every story, of every notebook—yours, mine, or all of us who are capable of scribbling down the bits and pieces of dialogue that float around in our heads? FON is as much about investigating our own mental resources for content as it is narrative structure. The author gives over all of his ideas and insecurities about the clichés of being a writer and the banal moments of his everyday as documented on paper in the pages of his old notebooks.

Campus sits west of the Chicago river, at the circle interchange of the Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways.  In the 60s UIC wedged its way into and consumed Chicago’s Little Italy, grew tentacles into the near west and south sides.  At one time called Circle Campus after the knot of concrete ramps where the two arteries bisect, it was built similarly of concrete in a style called Brutalism, emulating Soviet public housing, “riot proof,” with double-layer covered walkways akin to parking garages, an open-air amphitheater and massive concrete wheelchair ramps to 2nd floor entries reiterating the circle motif.  A miniature replica of an Eastern Bloc city, and likewise now with crumbling concrete, permanent scaffolding erected to protect students and faculty milling on (and off) grass lined footpaths under trees that replaced the severe web of covered walkways in the 90s.  The circular quad in front of 24-story University Hall underwent a decade-long project (that should’ve taken about a year) to add grassy knolls, flowered borders, and (perhaps a reminder of Brutalism) tile-lined fountains that rarely run because they’re broken.  But I walk campus without envy for Northwestern, University of Chicago, DePaul, or Loyola.  They have tradition, bigger trees, a vine-covered brick building probably called “Old Main.”  We have Brutalism.  It’s where part of me –  a native Californian – lives, has lived for almost 20 years.

When uttered by mayors and developers, “urban planning” often has all the integrity of a Kardashian wedding vow. I do. We do. Uh-huh.

Yes, some cities get it right. Portland, Oregon seems to have a plan, and New York City’s conceptual approach is only getting better.

In Gary Hustwit’s Urbanized, a few of the more successful urban plans are celebrated along with their proponents, such as Enrique Penalosa (the former mayor of Bogota) and Alejandro Aravena (of Elemental). The latter has made great strides with ingenious lower-income housing that allows residents to assist in designing their own spaces. The former can trumpet his oversight of initial construction of the Colombian city’s mass transit system (TransMilenio) and the reconceptualizing of road usage, prioritizing pedestrian and pedal traffic.

This is an unconventional love story.  It all started when I sat down for coffee on the bougainvillea-ensconced patio of the perfectly restored 1906 Craftsman home of my editor and friend Estelle Serna.  As usually happens, our conversation quickly turned to real estate.

“So, I’m back on the market again,” I told her.

“Again?” she said.

“I’ve been looking at a few places with a new agent.  But I haven’t found anything good.”

“Are there any houses you’re even considering?”

“Not really.  There was one that was okay, but it sat directly underneath the 2/210 overpass.”

“That doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, Summer,” Estelle said.  “When I bought this house, the bougainvillea was ragged.  How much was this house?”

“$620,000,” I said.

“That’s not bad!”

“Yeah, but I just don’t feel that spark.  I’m waiting for The One.”

“Just buy it, Summer,” Estelle said with a weary sigh.

I had been having these conversations a lot since I turned 40, on landscaped patios all over Los Angeles, but somehow, they never really sunk in.  Even as the market hit bottom and started to rebound again, I always thought I had more time.  The perfect house was always on the next block: The One.  In the meantime, I spent my weekends driving from open house to open house and my evenings sitting under the single flickering light bulb in my 200-square foot studio apartment, loading and reloading Redfin.com.  Sure, I wanted to settle down, but I didn’t want to settle.  Then I read a statistic that said that a 40-year-old woman with an annual salary of $75,000 and a credit score of 650 is two hundred times more likely to be killed in a terrorist attack than she is to find a suitable home in Los Angeles.

“It’s time to adjust your list,” Estelle told me.

Here was my list five years ago when I began my search for The One:

Four bedroom, two bath
Large lot
Two-car garage
Within walking distance of a Bristol Farms
Solar water heater
Granite countertops
In-ground pool
Outdoor kitchen
Original moulding
Tenuous connection to B-list celebrity
Mature quince trees
Wood-burning fireplace
View of the Hollywood Hills and/or Pacific Ocean (preferably both)
Kiln

Was this too much to ask?  Could this be the reason that 78% of Americans born between 1965 and 1980 will die of radon poisoning while lying face-down on a mildewed futon mattress in a condemned tenement apartment building with low ceilings and Formica countertops and no one to mourn them?

All I wanted to do was curl up with a copy of Dwell magazine and watch the sun set over my salt-water infinity pool – was that too much to ask?

At first, house-hunting was fun.  I looked forward to spending each weekend out with my real estate agent, climbing over trash piles and peering through wire-reinforced glass windows, chatting happily about “potential.”  But at a certain point, I felt burned out, tired of the drop-ceilings and the feral pigs and the tacky overhead lighting.

Finally, the statistics I had read began to hit home.  Would I be one of the 1 in 3 middle-aged women who tried to buy a house for ten years, gave up, went crazy, and wound up digging a foxhole beside a freeway embankment, then carpeting it over with Flor tiles?

After a particularly harrowing day of house-hunting, I caught up with my good friend, marionette restorationist Randall Hitch, for glasses of port on the glazed terracotta terrace of his Moroccan-style villa overlooking the hedge maze and the koi pond.  He told me his house had just been listed in the National Registry of Historic Places after it was discovered that deleted scenes from “Chinatown” were once stored in a utility trailer parked in the alleyway behind his home.  I told him about the last house I had rejected.

“It was nice, roomy, in a good neighborhood, in my price range, but it was sort of pre-fab-looking and also it didn’t have a floor.”

“There are a lot of ways to personalize a pre-fab home, Summer,” Randall said.

“I know.  But I mean, there was no floor at all.  Just uncovered joists.”

“Summer, you’re too picky. I hate to say it, but it’s true. Do you think this house was in perfect condition the day I found it?  Of course not!  I had to tear out wall-to-wall carpet in the back hallway.  Beige wall-to-wall carpet.  But in the end, what matters is that I have a place to call home, a place to love, a place to store 1700-square feet of early nineteenth-century Persian art.”

I gazed out at the ocean, the radiant floor heating warming the soles of my shoes.

“I just feel like I could do better,” I said. “I feel like I deserve it.  Where’s my fairy tale ending?”

“We are all brainwashed by the media,” Randall said, “by newspaper style sections and design blogs and issues of Elle Décor we find in our dermatologist’s waiting room.  My mother was sending me clippings from Better Homes and Gardens, Summer.  Actual paper clippings.  They want to sell you on a dream of home ownership but the reality is very different.  Owning your own home is work.  No matter how amazing The One is, you’re still going to have to touch up the paint, clean the rain gutters, trap and release some mountain lions – that’s real life.”

Was Randall right?  I thought about all the movies and television shows that had dominated my formative years: Ally McBeal’s Murano glass lamp, Mr. Big’s fabulous chandelier on “Sex and the City.”

The last person I talked to was my own real estate agent, Carmen Yu, in the dining room of her 3300-square foot Spanish-style eco-palazzo with its low-VOC paint, reclaimed wooden coat hangers, wild truffle insulation, and ultra-efficient commercial pizza oven.  She ushered me towards the “green” sofa she had made herself out of three larger sofas, then went to get us drinks from the floating wet bar that bobbed up and down along her in-home brook.

“Every night I sign into Redfin and Trulia and Zillow and I see all these amazing houses but I can never seem to buy one.  But their ads all seem so perfect.  What’s the matter with me?”

Carmen shook her head.

“I’m going to be honest here, Summer.  We put these ads up to fool you.  The photos are all taken with wide-angle lenses, run through a ‘sucker’ filter on Photoshop, or just hand-drawn by our kids.  ‘Cozy’ means small; ‘sunny’ means scorched; ‘airy’ means there are holes in the roof; ‘historic’ means a murder was committed there; ‘low-maintenance backyard’ means that the last owners salted the earth.  You’re 40 years old, it’s time you faced facts.  Do you want to know what ‘turnkey’ means, Summer? Do you?” She took my hand.  “It doesn’t mean anything.”

Her words hurt, but they also rang true.  No wonder 63% of L.A. county residents are now living full-time in their office cubicles, subsisting on nothing but Sparkletts water and Nature Valley granola bars.

That night I went home and after hand-cranking the emergency generator in my dark apartment, I was able to go online and sign into Redfin again.  I clicked through all my new matches and they all looked so promising.  This one had exposed wood-beam ceilings, that one had a two-story guest house.  Why, this one even had a low-maintenance backyard!

Then, as I had often done before, I visited the ones that got away.  There was 1317 Maple Street, with its six-foot-tall-ceilings and tar-impregnated top soil, sold for $700,000 after being on the market just nine days.  There was 415 Elm Road, which I rejected as “too boxy,” sold above asking price, probably to a happy family that was even now contentedly scrubbing toxic lichens off the three remaining walls.  While I had waited for The One, plenty of good ones, and even not-so-god ones, had gone off the market or been destroyed by landslides.  What would be left?

It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for you.  The truth is, in the time it took you to read this article, you wasted $4,200 in lost equity, housing prices rose 30%, your landlord was convicted of exotic pet smuggling, and your apartment’s rat-infested carport slid four inches deeper into a sinkhole, taking your Camry with it.  So take my advice: don’t hold out for your dreams – just buy it.

On Wednesday Borders surprised almost no one by filing for bankruptcy. Authors are pissed because the company has not yet paid for the books it sold over the Christmas period. Readers are pissed because another of their local bookstores has bitten the dust.

As a reader it may seem strange that I’ve always had a strong distaste for bookstores. I hate that bookstores have “literature” sections that are a few shelves long, because most of what they sell is not literature. It’s celebrity biographies, books to accompany fad TV shows, and imitations of imitations. For me, they were a necessary evil – a place to visit to sift through the crap and find what you need.

In Dundee, during my university years, we had a handful of bookstores in the town centre, and several littered throughout the West End – the university district. Even by my third year, well before the world economy shat the bed, Dundee’s bookstores were in trouble. They began closing and reopening at smaller premises, with selections more focused on commercial books. The independent stores closed altogether.

The bank’s assistant manager approached me with a friendly smile and an immaculate suit. Charles looked his part—competent, precise, rational. He also looked younger than I am, much younger, but appearances are tricky. He asked why I’d come in. I explained I needed to shift some money around to keep it liquid. I was a writer who dipped into savings and was contemplating a move to another state.

How does the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Pavilion fit into the LACMA family? Surely you must remember the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito movie “Twins.” I will not go so far as to suggest that this is what the worldly architect Renzo Piano had in mind when he designed the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA and placed it right next to his other contribution to “the campus:” the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. The resulting effect, however, is not far off. As viewed from the Entrance Pavilion, the Resnik Pavilion looks like the less-developed sibling of the taller, more imposing BCAM. It’s, well, the grand Piáno and the baby Piáno (insert restrained, WASPY laugh here). Both buildings are topped by a saw-tooth roof, are constructed from the same pale travertene marble, and are embellished with this or that functional accent in fire engine-… sorry, “Renzo-Red:” a staircase (BCAM) or an air-duct (the Resnik).But these are just surface details. As LACMA CEO and director Micheal Govan assurs us, the Resnik Pavillion is nothing but grand when viewed from the inside.

Spam, Annotated

By Jeremy Resnick

Humor

“I got some cleats,” she said. “Yes!” Fred reached into the coffer and pulled out a team up free of underhanded size 21 Adidas cleats, ending the kind’s crave and frustrating moreover to find a two of a description of Chrsitian Louboutin shoes that could robust the women oversized feet. “Oh, this is vitriolic,” Fred said as sje held the shoes in façade of him. “I like this. I can’t meanwhile to nag them.” She smiled again as she tried on the shoes and as members of the coaching combine took photos.

*

No doubt whole dissertations will be written about this passage, the careers of spam scholars forged on the anvil of its impenetrability. It is the new art, in that it is the old art made new, the scene expanding and contracting like a funhouse mirror, and then shattering and putting itself back together like a video of the shattering of a funhouse mirror played forward and backward:

“I got some cleats,” she said. “Yes!” Fred reached into the coffer and pulled out a team up free of underhanded size 21 Adidas cleats, ending the kind’s crave and frustrating moreover to find a two of a description of Chrsitian Louboutin shoes that could robust the women oversized feet.

From the triumphant first line to Fred’s pulling from the shoe coffer these devious Bob-Lanier-sized shoes, we are thrown right into the action. (Or has Fred pulled not shoes, but a whole soccer team, none of whom wears the sinister cleats? Is Fred a god? The Chrsitian God? For sanity’s sake, let’s assume he pulls out the shoes.) The wealthy, generous Fred gives these shoes to “the kind.” But what sort of creature is “the kind”? Are “she” and the “the kind” the same entity? The best, largest-footed soccer player ever to come out of Humboldt County? It seems so. (Unless the shoes are “the kind,” and they are animated shoes capable of “craving.” But no, I don’t think so.)

We have no time to dwell on these questions, because in the same breath “the kind” is both sated and foiled in a word maze in which one suspects a pair or two pairs of shoes (or descriptions of shoes) either do or do not work.

Or both. Or all! As with Duchamp’s descending Nude, Pynchon’s Lot 49, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, quantum theory, and Hermaphroditism, in this spam there is yes and there is also no. These two-of-a-description shoes both fit and don’t fit.

Then, of course, the “already women oversized feet” could get robusted. (Robust: to enhance a body part’s size, as in “Oh, she definitely robusted those bazombas…. Definitely.”)

 Oh, this is vitriolic,” Fred said as sje held the shoes in façade of him.

In addition to playing with parallel universes of yes and no, the author plays with time. Only after we get Fred’s reaction do we find out what he’s reacting to. What he finds vitriolic is the sudden presence of his rival sje, the Norwegian architect/e.e. cummings disciple. sje immediately shows “the kind” what she can do with those shoes. Façade, anyone?

 “I like this. I can’t meanwhile to nag them.”

She appears to be pleased with sje. Being a truly negative “kind” though, she can’t think to say anything nicer than that she can’t “nag” them. (What? Are the shoes in fact animated? And if she didn’t like them, would it really be their fault? I mean, would they deserve to be nagged?) But she covers up her negativity for the cameras:

She smiled again as she tried on the shoes and as members of the coaching combine took photos.

And doesn’t that just encapsulate our entire age right there? Rich Fred, who put all his self-worth into his shoe coffer, is left empty-handed, a soul pauper. Even sje, the “artist,” is abandoned, left holding the enormous shoes in front of him like the house painter’s ladder-holder he used to be. Meanwhile, a whole combine of coaches fresh from talent-threshing has expanded their exploitation of athletes to include the photographing of them, thus stealing work from the struggling paparazzi, who may be forced to go back to their fast-food service jobs.

What of “the kind”? She hardens her heart and swallows her unhappiness so she can present a grinning face to the masses and keep her sponsors.

It’s a sad old story, but one has to admire the way it’s told.

 

The garish glass monstrosity directly above the front door of a typical McMansion—its distinguishing feature—is called a Palladian window.Although in the real estate patois McMansions are known as Colonials, the Palladian window is a more recent innovation, with roots in the so-called Adam style of the Victorian period.