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The Bums of Los Angeles

February 18, 2009 — 8 Comments

Last week, Ian had an interesting post on homeless of downtown Los Angeles. It’s an ok start but his analysis plainly lacks the study that the subject requires. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m an expert but my first taste of the power of the internet came in 2005 when I uploaded a photo of the second dreadlocked mullet I’d found on as many coasts. It was quickly seen by more 20,000 times. I’ve since learned that they call it a “beaver tail” in the business. After I took the photo I saw the lady on the right drape it around her neck like a scarf.


The downtown homeless are the product of a perverse version of the survivorship bias. Santa Monica- a beach paradise, is less than 15 miles away. Even a crackhead would feel the magnetic pull of the coast. Downtown gets stuck with the ones that couldn’t figure out how to get there. Basically the deranged, the destructive and delirious.

If you travel west through Los Angeles, you can actually see the spectrum of homeless competency laid out as you get closer to the ocean. It’s best illustrated by panhandlers out to make money in a city designed around the car. There are no pedestrians! Mid-city, the homeless stagger into the streets and try to cajole change from moving vehicles. Only when you get to Beverly Hills do you start to see the first semblance of notion of performance art. There’s a crazy black lady who entertains the paparazzi in front of a parking garage near a medical building that does a lot of plastic surgery. (You may have seen her on TMZ.) Then as you continue through Westwood (UCLA) you see an occasional guitar or instrument. Finally in Santa Monica, they begin to have pets, sunny dispositions and hilarious political platforms that they shout from bullhorns.

Although Ian mentioned the legless guy downtown who walks with his hands, he missed the one dressed like a pirate and demands you call him Captain (or something like that). There’s also a guy who lurches out around corners and aggressively barks like a dog. He’s apparently had bad experiences with people’s pets because he barks between cries of “how do you like this, huh?” Most importantly, he ignored the one who ordered a vodka and water at the iHop I was at near the Staples Center. When they asked him to stop loudly muttering curses, he yelled “I will not! I wheeled myself in here and I can wheel myself out.” There’s the guy who passes out headshots of himself, the one who doesn’t like dogs who pee in the grass because “people sleep there,” and the one I saw get maced in the middle of a farmers market.

I’ve never been to Detroit or Pittsburgh, but I’m pretty sure Los Angeles has the worst bums in the United States. And of that, downtown has to have some of the most impressive. The best part is that it couldn’t have happened to a city that cares more about chickenshit little things like parking tickets and street sweeping. In Koreatown, the homeless set up tents in the middle of the sidewalk and cook themselves breakfast each morning on portable grill with impunity. But if you so much as spend an extra minute in an hour parking space, they will cover your car in tickets.

Freakonomics did a quorum on what to do if you’re homeless last November and unfortunately all the answers were lame. But if you ever found yourself homeless, the first thing you should do is find a way to get to Los Angeles. So long as you aren’t crazy, you could hustle your way back to solvency so fast. There’s no competition like you’d face in San Francisco – who knows how to do the silver robot thing? There’s no crippling weather like say Boston or New York. There’s not the institutionalized culture of giving which you’d think would be a bad thing but it’s actually crippled the ingenuity of the homeless in Los Angeles, leaving them to lay around or wander like helpless zombies.

The market, as they say, is completely open to disruption.

Try spending the day listening to an iPod as you go about your business. How much more important it all seems. Put your hands in your pockets and start walking down the street. It’s you, oh fearless warrior, and your battle against the world.

Welcome to the narrative fallacy.

God forbid you should ever have one with you when you’re running and it begins to rain. If you don’t have a shirt on, it’s over. Out of the corner of your eye, you’ll swear that trees are bowing as you pass.

Welcome to the “movie about your life.”

To Read:

February 12, 2009 — 6 Comments

Dr. Rob interviewed me.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words, though it contradict everything you think today. ” Emerson, Self-Reliance

“Ah, you’re trying to refute me by quoting things I’ve said or written myself. But I live from one day to the next! If something strikes me as probable, I say it; and that is how, unlike everyone else, I remain a free agent.” Cicero, Discussions at Tusculum

I don’t think there is a more impressive thing to do intellectually than turn over a long-held a opinion in light of new evidence. And maybe free agency isn’t the right metaphor any longer because what I really think he’s talking about is having a higher loyalty. That is, being ok with the embarrassment contradicting yourself in exchange for working towards the truth. Being consistently inaccurate to be constantly accurate.

Nice Ways to Wrap Things Up

February 6, 2009 — 5 Comments

The technique reminded me of something I’d been taught by another reporter at the Journal-News. When somebody is screaming you mustn’t hang up on them because they’ll call your boss right back, and they’ll be much angrier. ‘Uh-huh,’ you say ‘uh-huh, uh-huh.’ Make sympathetic noises, and wait until they’re done with their tirade. Finally you start to talk to them calming, and as if you have a lot to say. Talk for about a minute and then in midsentence hang up on yourself. Half the time, they won’t call back. If they do call back, they’re going to be easier to deal with. Now they feel you’ve both been wrong. – Selling Ben Cheever by Ben Cheever

I had a high school cross country coach who would just talk forever without saying anything important. My friends and I would wait until there was a pause her speech and I would pretend that I was swinging my arms around until my hands connected and clapped. Then someone else would follow it with another clap or stand up. About half the time she unconsciously mistake take that emphasis for her own poignancy – like when a captain yells BREAK! before going out onto the field – and decide to end on the high note.