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California Noir Books

I have written one of the best California noir books I could – but I still have plenty more observations that could fit into plenty more California noir books. Here are a few:

Kagel Canyon

I have been living quietly in Kagel Canyon for three months. Tonight is my last night here. It’s a side of LA I haven’t seen in my fifteen years here (or twenty, depending on how you count it, certainly enough to fill a few California noir books). 

The foothills of Sylmar are inhabited almost exclusively by middle and upper-middle class Latino families, mostly Mexican and Mexican American, many of whom own and ride horses around the neighborhood. It is not uncommon to see the horses hitched up at the local 7-11. Mind you this foothill area is as urban as most of the rest of Los Angeles. 

It is also not uncommon to see the caballeros in full cowboy regalia blasting conjunto or nortena music from an old fashioned boombox held on the shoulder with one hand, while the other hand rests on the knob of their western saddle. This is my favorite thing about this area. It’s just a great counterpoint so some of the more ridiculously false parts of Los Angeles, while still retaining that fantastical quality – as these do not need to ride horses to the 7-11. Various cars, motorcycles, mopeds, or horses are their choices of transport, none of them are relegated to horses. Not any of these cowboys actually herd cattle or rope horses for a living. They are dentists and specialty mechanic shop owners and salesmen

The further up in the hills you get, the whiter it gets. People keep to themselves. 

There is a local scene, and a local pride. The families that have lived here have been here for a long time.  It’s pretty much the same as the foothills, only white, with larger houses further apart, and the women are the ones that ride the horses, and they don’t bring ghettoblasters with them, rather their teenage daughters. It would be a beautiful area, but for its eastern location making it the butt of LA’s smog, which thickly coats anything you leave outside, your skin, your hair, and your lungs.This area is also what most often gives Los Angeles the reputation for fires. 

Each canyon has its own special feeling up here. No more than five hundred live in Kagel Canyon. There’s a dive bar only one street number up from me, yet I never hear any trouble other than the squealing of people taking their tires to the limit on canyon roads. 

There is a bulletin board at the foot of Kagel Canyon that introduced a considerable amount of humor into my stay here.  

Highlights were the “FOUND:  GOAT.” sign… as well as the peacock drama:  “PLEASE KEEP YOUR PEACOCKS QUIET!” (it is true, you hear them often, but I can’t imagine them being annoying unless maybe you were right up on them). 

A couple of weeks after that sign had been forgotten about “ATTENTION!  SOMEONE HAS BEEN TRAPPING OUR PEACOCKS!”…

As with any canyon in Los Angeles, the higher up the mountain you go, the more you run into the mountain people. All types. The ones full of hate for all humanity. Those embarrassed by their past. The ones on the run. The addicts. The ones too strange for social contact. The ones too rich for their own good. The only thing I have noticed about the specific flavor of these in Kagel Canyon that individuates the folks from other mountain ilk is that they are a trashy, western, San Fernando Valley version of the east coast concept of the “trust fund baby”. That said – they keep it together. Considering how wrecked some of the people are, I’m surprised by how little trouble goes down. 

I have now lived in Tuna Canyon and Kagel Canyon. Let the jokes commence.

California Noir Books


Wow. Half price organic breakfast at Fig Tree Cafe from 8-9 on the boardwalk where the masochists are out for their morning bike/run/skate. Listening to a busking rainbow-clad hippie Santa Claus singing Disney songs interspersed with Johnny Cash, viewing the ocean, hearing conversations from the smokeyard of the state mandated halfway house directly next to the cafe, including their bids to the addicts standing/puking right next to the fence to pass them drugs – all while witnessing a small Black Lives Matter protest collide with a larger group of drunken bro Xmas carolers.

A little exaggerated today, aren’t we Venice.

San Francisco

I fall in love with San Francisco over the course of a two week stay in October, 2012.  

It is not love at first sight. I lived in the Bay Area for six years and never loved any part of it.  I’ve always appreciated it on a theoretical level. It is the end of the spectrum and the pinnacle of progressive, leftist civilization in the United States. I never liked it close up though. Feels like that over-achieving, note-taking, well-put together, charming and strikingly gorgeous hot girl in college that you wish you could be like until you get close and realize she’s a diet-pill using bulimic virgin except for the rape.  

San Francisco pokes holes in the veneer of leftist theory by having more street people than any city I’ve been to. I have to frown as I watch hundreds of people and cars passing a homeless beggar, a black man in an oversized army coat resting his back against the cool stone of a downtown San Francisco building. Those that want the government to take care of people are the very people that won’t take care of each other and so I, the tourist, stoop to drop a dollar in the hand of a grateful man.

This visit, though, my perspective shifts.

I realize that this person and so many others that can’t make it without assistance flock to San Francisco as a testimony to the city’s tolerance and generosity. As are all the other populations that are celebrated in San Francisco and not elsewhere.

The food is fresh, nutritious, and conscious. More so than any other city in the United States. I can eat everywhere I go – refreshing after being accustomed to bringing my own food everywhere. I happily stick to a restricted diet and still enjoy new flavors and combinations at the hands of Bay Area chefs both gourmet and everyday.

It is over tapas in Mountain View with my Russian friend/lover translating his Russian supervisor and my English questions that the deal is struck where I will sell Chinese-made robots for a Russian company. It is over tea in the Castro that me and my friend of many years and few in person hangouts agree to write a book about using nutrition and therapy to manage cyclothymia.

The Bay Area affords fractal expansions of opportunity.

I am in a fancy medical marijuana dispensary in the Mission that also provides alternative healthcare counseling to patients seeking cannabis for their maladies. The product is lovely, the packaging is amazing. The design speaks to the Asian influence in San Francisco. It is zen, vaguely Japanese.

The products are stacked in removable boxes that are color-coded by their drawers. Seems to me each would have room for about a pound of weed, or a few dozen brownies. They form an ever-changing mosaic against the back wall, where they live on shelves. There is a rolling ladder like you’d find in a library affixed to a layer of the shelves so the budtenders can reach the top of the stack. Everything is made from wood. The lighting is bright but subdued.

I am smiling as I’ve just passed a lesbian security guard so confident and dominant it made me tingle even though I don’t like the women.

A stagehand nearing his sixtieth birthday whispers to me while my rec is being validated that if I say he referred me we both get “free pot”.

I go along. He tells me about his life, and how he found a ticket to Maui for $150 online. He’ll go there to relax for a bit as he lived there for seven years. He is writing a book on the history of rock’n’roll. He doesn’t stop talking to me, to the budtender, to anyone that will listen. Until he gets his “free pot” – then he’s off like a rocket.

He tells me and the remarkably patient, tuned in, and supportive budtender stories that skirt the lines of what I know is legal to recount in a medical marijuana dispensary. I smile as we are not hurried, mentioning that I have given up on not getting a parking ticket. They both ask if I should run and feed the meter.

“No worries. It will be my gift to the City of San Francisco.” They both react negatively.  

I smile – you never appreciate what you have.  I’ve been told a number of times in meetings this visit that San Francisco is in the midst of another boom. People are flocking here at an alarming rate. It is very difficult to find housing in San Francisco, and when possible it’s shockingly expensive.  

As a tourist, I find this pressure produces pleasing results: high-end everything, grateful newcomers, and status based on how long someone has been living in the community. These aren’t bad things.

The stagehand tells a story about how he was rolling a joint in the park and a police officer asked for his recommendation and then ran his name.  Beaming with pride at having no priors at his age, he smiles as he delivers the punchline:

“The cop told me to watch out, my pot was blowing away.” 

In his face is such gratitude, this man that’s been smoking pot longer than I’ve been alive and now – for the first time in his life – can hardly believe that he’s free to do so.  

I’ve seen that look before. On a man’s face at the Vapor Spot Bar at a rooftop Hollywood benefit for medical marijuana that I won tickets to from a dispensary. He looked the same generation, in his early 60’s, but clean cut and clearly closeted about his use. 

And also seen the look on another man, about the same age, late 50’s, early 60’s. I was smoking a joint in the neighboring lane in traffic waiting to enter the freeway. He leaned out of his SUV so overcome with admiration for my open and carefree use he couldn’t quite get out the words to communicate that, but I caught his gist.

It’s a beautiful look to see on a man’s face. The joy of bringing something once hidden and shameful out into the open to be shared, sometimes even with pretty young ladies.

I order a gram of Dutch Flowers, a gram of SFV OG, an outdoor OG Kush pre-roll, an indoor OG Kush pre-roll, and a Space Queen pre-roll, and as testament to the luck of the stagehand – we both get a free pre-roll of Maui Wowie. I do not fail to notice the digital Volcanoes, three of them. The sit on three tables with benches on one side and simple, Japanesey wooden stools on the other. At one of the tables sit three people with two mouthpieces and bags, playing a simple children’s board game, a giant stack of which sit in a basket by the desk next to the verification counter. One of them is in a wheelchair, and obviously using medical marijuana for a serious condition. I smile as I hand my ID over for Volcano fixin’s to one of the staff.

Fifteen minutes later the Dutch Flowers gram is gone. I’m pleased to no end to have a vaporizer high after weeks of smoking.

The packaging for the medicine is pleasingly sleek but non-medical. I am tired of the medicine bottles and happy to see something less wasteful. Even the rolling papers are branded. On my way out the man who trades me my ID for the Volcano Easy Valve Set that I decide is preferable to the ancient one I own that now resides in a storage space in the San Fernando Valley tells me that he likes my hair.

I get lost on the way back to my car and consult Google briefly, then figure it out on my own.  As I approach I see the traffic cop entering the ticketing info. I know I’m fucked, so I slow down and smile.  

“It took longer than I thought.”  He turns and looks at me, a young black man with braces on his teeth.  “I know, I get it.  I’ll pay, no worries.”

“No.  Just go.” he says as he turns and is in his cart and off faster than I can thank him.  

I grin. Thank you San Francisco.

Got any observations that could fill California noir books? Scroll down to “Incoming Transmission” and leave a comment!

California Noir Books

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