Writings and Letters

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Tag: Los Angeles

[Palpable] Poetry

(Part One: Palpable [Poetry])

I found myself downtown on a job for my current gig. After work, I decided to visit the postmodern gleaming glass and cement megalith. I was interested to reconnect with the landmark. Over time it began to mystify my mind’s recollections, and I found myself looking back with a sense of kinship rather than disdain. What lied in that atrium moved me, for whatever reasons, and allowed me to connect with the inanimate—much like I have before with pieces of art.

As I walked up the steps via Figueroa towards one of the hotel’s few entrances, I was what can only be described as both nervous and curious to see what the atrium would reveal to me this time around—some five years removed now. What changed? What remained?

The stairs took me to the second level, and when I entered the atrium it exposed itself to me much as it had many times before. It looked almost untouched. The time-spatial oddities that once gave me a conscious dread, now felt quite welcomed. The fact that it was stuck in time was reassuring in a sense. The edifice provided an excuse to pretend I had slipped the realms of the present and fell back into that nebulous dreamscape called “the past.” Continuing around the pedestrian causeway I witnessed the same gift shop that had been there years before still remained, complete with the identical Coca-Cola clock and cardboard bikini model holding a six-pack of Corona. Strange pleasure was being extracted from surroundings, akin to visiting former pals. On the third level, I walked from red to blue to yellow to green sections—same color palettes; same well-nigh indistinguishables—passing many of the same fronts I had walked by years ago: the workout center, the Chinese spa, the hair salon (the same posters of models with hairstyles from when Desert Storm was still a thing), the tour guide offices that weren’t for traveling to Japan, but for Japanese vacationers to visit parts of southern California. In the red (or blue, or yellow, or green) restaurant corner were all my old friends (“Oh how I thought you’d gone. But here you all are!”): the Panda Hut, Cap’n Lee’s Seafood, The Healthy Winner, and even the Olive Branch falafel joint. I was certain they would have all vanished, replaced by some other generic storefront, but there they were. They had managed to survive somehow.

It filled me we a peculiar joy. Perhaps I was truly able to transcend time and find myself back in my own history? If so, where was I then? And what explained these new spaces: a tax lawyer’s office, an accounting firm? How was it that the man-made “lake” (once parched) now flowed beautifully with crystal water amidst this historic Californian drought? It was all very much the same, but different.

passed a Korean restaurant that appeared new. A normally encouraging site, but something was off. It shouldn’t have been there. Something used to exist in its stead. (It was not until I had returned home and researched some that the Korean restaurant had replaced the Mandarin West—a respectable looking place I never had the heart to visit.) And the more I walked about, the more haunted I became by the realization that not much had changed at all: most of the store fronts still remained vacant. The more I moved around the voluted cement landscape the more I witnessed this mesh of past and present. A woman on her lunch break (or maybe she was staying at the hotel, or had some other background my mind couldn’t think to narrate) kept passing me in the opposite direction at each level. I smiled every time. She nodded in recognition. This repetition called something to the forefront of my mind.

I thought of Frederic Jameson in real-time: “…architectural theory has begun to borrow from narrative analysis… and attempt to see… buildings as virtual narratives or stories… which we as visitors are asked to fulfill and to complete with our own bodies and movements…” So what are you trying to tell me, Westin? I wondered. What stories do you have for me to finish?

A popular sad song moved through the air waves. It was being sang by some kid whose dad was a mutual fund manager and bankrolled his fame–I read somewhere. I wondered about credibility and art and capital. I tried to realize some connection, but only managed to become frustrated and then depressed.

Ideas moved in a maelstrom of my wandering mind, and as I attempted to focus, to solidify they began to obfuscate, and then evaporate into thin air. All these flitting bits of information and knowledge just beyond my grasp. Where do they go? How can I grasp them? These questions ran aplenty by the time I reached the summit of the sixth floor. In many respects it was a representation of a representation of a representation of a concreted contradiction. Mr. Baguette (!) was still there, the portrait still much the same. The owner/manager remained almost fixed it seemed in that location behind the counter with begging eyes. Though this time a different cook stood behind him, staring at his smart phone. I chose to not make eye contact with him.

The closed Japanese Shabu-Barbecue-Sushi Restaurant remained just so. Most of the tables and chairs had been removed, replaced with brand new mattresses still in their plastic wrapping and assortments of lamps and desk chairs. It lost its ghostly qualities, the sadness it used to project was less strong—perhaps it was because I had become acquainted to it, perhaps I was giving up the ghost.

Rounding the last section of the sixth level, I came upon the Subway. A crowd of youngsters huddled in the corner, talking about getting a football game together and throwing around their group’s racial denigration to the point of rendering it useless, a playful sobriquet passed back and forth between friends. They sucked down their fountain drinks and ate cookies. I thought about the clever marketing around the use of “fountain drink” as I stepped up to the counter to order. While I was admiring the wordsmanship, I noticed the Subway now had five beers on tap, and six different bottled choices.

I ordered a beer, and a chocolate-chip cookie—because why not?—and sat down in the same spot I usually seated myself. I need to go on a diet after this, I told myself. The teenage boys continued to talk, and talk loudly in the obligatory tradition teenagers tend to do, the subject switching from music, to people they knew, to social politics of authenticity, then back to football. “What the fuck is a Cam Newton?” one kept saying, much to the enjoyment of the others. I watched the local news talk about the upcoming spectacle of sport: Super Bowl 50. The young man said it again when a photo of the football celebrity appeared. Then that talk died down and shifted into that wonderful cradle of misinformation as they traded anecdotal stories and hearsay, dropping in that meaningless hate word every now and then. The chapter turned on the news as well as the reporter described a flash strike that occurred at a Togo’s in Monterey Park—rolling coverage of workers shouting muted chants and holding signs of their protest in front of the store. I looked at the two workers behind the counter. I did not recognize them from my past, but I knew it didn’t mean anything.

Then I thought of David Harvey: “…leftists reorganize themselves in the same way capital accumulation is reorganized.” I remembered someone once told me in America during the 70s the biggest employers of labor used to be: General Motors, Ford, and US Steel. Now they are: McDonald’s, KFC, and Walmart. I ate my cookie while the words “forego organizing in the workplace for organizing the neighborhood” came out of nowhere. Who said that? The teenagers? My consciousness? Westin, was that you? I turned and looked out to the cement inner-city and tried to comprehend its story some more.

What did it mean: That architecture was now a story? That a building was a city? A city a larger representation of the whole means of production and consumption, an endless cycle of extraction and utilization from life into death, the struggle of existence? That such a system fabricated from the minds of mortals has evolved into something ethereal, beyond the bounds of human law. What did it mean: that the present folds right into the past, and we become subsumed into these fictions our brains create—that memory is fleeting and history fickle? Were any of these related, how?  All these thoughts swirling around me like the ephemera that consumed my life. Everything began to take shape much like a work of poetry. It all complimented each other in a rhythmic fashion, the meanings though left subjective. But there was something to this spinning mirroring of observations and thoughts: history and theory.

As I began to defocus, the clearer it all became. I could finally start to picture a story, but only in that indecipherable state. The only meaning I could gather was from a certain absurdity of this strange dancing balladry. And the more I thought about it along those lines, the more it began to make sense.

So perhaps this is the way to break through the poetry, and arrive at a different narrative completely. Then again, maybe not; but I’ll keep thinking about it, and hope one day the interior affects the exterior again in such a way that the paradigm shifts at least one more time.

 

A View of the Past in the Future

The following is a post from the Local Los Angeles section of the June 24th, 2021 issue of the now defunct The New York-Los Angeles Times:

“EL SEGUNDO – Beaches during the summer in Los Angeles are usually filled with people. Locals and visitors flock to the sunny, white shores of the Los Angeles coastal towns to partake in swimming, surfing, sunbathing, or just getting away from the continuous record-breaking heat of climate change the inexplicable will of God. It is usually a great time for towns and neighborhoods such as Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu, and Manhattan Beach who rely on the influx of people and the money that comes with them for their local economies. However, recently the number of beach-goers has fallen precipitously sense the passage of the Let the American Land go Free Act (LALFA), signed into power by President Trump® a year earlier.Academy2 The impact of the new federal act has dramatically changed many of the seaside communities, perhaps none more than the small town of El Segundo.

‘It’s just not worth going there anymore,’ says Yorick Carson, 45, who lives in nearby Hawthorne. ‘I mean with all that was there before it wasn’t a great location, but now you can forget it.’ Previously, El Segundo’s beachfront suffered from planes coming and going out of the international airport in neighboring Playa Del Rey, and the unsightly locations of both its Water and Power facility, and the Chevron oil refinery, but it still managed to have a good stretch of clean coastline towards the southern end of its beach area that generated a steady flow of visitors. That is no longer the case, however, now with the oil company taking advantage of LALFA and purchasing the land from the municipality.

With the passage of LALFA, the federal act that eliminates the possibility of the public trust, companies can now purchase land previously controlled by municipalities, states, etc. Even if a sale is refused, companies or wealthy individuals can sue for the land and (based on the landmark Delaware v. American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. Supreme Court decision) if the courts decide the compensation for said land is fair and the purchasers’ reason ‘within the sound and good taste of the People,’ the land can still be purchased. El Segundo did not hesitate to sell the oceanfront to Chevron, though. Strapped for cash after five years of 2016 Trump Tax Cuts for the Better of America®, and a third recession, the city like every other city and state throughout the country, has had to sell off public-controlled entities to ready and willing private hands. ‘The city thought, like most, that this was best for the citizens,’ said professor of Economics and Chicano Studies and Space Science and Communications and Theology at UCLA-USC, Shirley Ziggarratt. ‘No city or state in this country can afford to balance budgets without privatizing most things and severely cutting their workforce. Throw a rock in any direction, it will land in a place where the government body is having some kind of fire sale.’

Privatized beaches have popped up all across the coastal United States,Academy2 and especially in California where the Governor, Regenerated, Taxidermal, Zombie Ronald Reagan (D), has vouched to balance the budget through ‘true grit and a-sleeve rolling’ which has translated to selling off nearly 70% of the Golden State’s beaches to corporations–mostly oil companies like Exxon/Mobil, BP, Chevron,

Saudi Aramco and PetroChina–and approximately 49% of government responsibilities such as: public transportation, oversight of highway/freeway systems, all toll roads, and outsourcing agencies like the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the Californian chapter of the Environmental Protection Agency (all legal sales under LALFA).

 

The purchase of the beach in El Segundo has not meant soaring profits for Chevron, though.

As the Trump-Arabian War® enters its fifth year and expands into Iran, much of the Middle Eastern oil remains embargoed from entering the United States. The Executive Order signed by President Trump® at the beginning of the year has set oil prices at a historic low, below $.60 in most parts of the country. The hope behind the low prices was that citizens would have more money in their pockets to spend. However, in the middle of this third recession in five years, most Americans are still heavily debt-incumbent and intrenched in the credit system; any money saved from cheap oil prices has been applied to paying down their own indebtedness. So with the sluggish economy remaining quite asthenic, the immediate and sustained impact the low prices have had is a net-negative for companies like Chevron. The corporation has seen a drop of 16% in its stock in the first quarter alone. Chevron, like many of its ilk doing business in the United States, have started dramatically cutting their workforce in order to generate more revenue and meliorate shareholder expectations.

In an added effort to combat their financial losses, Chevron has decided to implement a new technique for transferring its oil collected from the ocean to the land-based refineries, called ‘stranding.’ Stranding entails oil tankers carefully positioning themselves some half-mile away from the shoreline, and then through a series of highly-contemplated guessing algorithms, the tankers release over four million liters of oil into the ocean and allow it to simply wash up on the shore to be collected and sent to the refinery for processing.

El Segundo is the first location for testing and perfecting stranding for global implementation. If estimates are correct, stranding might save the company tens of hundreds of dollars over a 40-year period.

 

The initial results have been quite predictable: death of any sea and wildlife in the immediate area, shorelines not only in El Segundo but from Playa Del Rey to Manhattan Beach covered in toxic petroleum, flaming tidal waves, foul and noxious smells for up to a 10-mile radius affecting over 150,000 residents. ‘All manageable incidents,’ spokesperson for Chevron, Vanessa Quaruulioss, said in a typed response. ‘There is nothing Chevron is not prepared to handle to ensure the quality product it produces will continue to reach its customers in a safe, affordable fashion.’ She went on in a follow-up email: ‘We’ve been a part of this community since 1911 when the main product produced was kerosene for lamps. In fact, the City of El Segundo (Spanish for ‘the Second’) was named after the refinery, then Standard Oil’s second in California. Today, the El Segundo Refinery provides jobs for more than 1,100 450 Chevron employees and 500 50 contractors, covers approximately 1,000 1,5000 acres, has more than 1,100 2,560 miles of pipelines, and is capable of refining 290 534 thousand barrels of crude oil per day. Transportation fuels–gasoline, jet and diesel–are the primary products refined from the crude oil. We are responsible caretakers of our land and the

environment, we operate our own electricity, steam, and water treatment facilities, and even maintain one of the only two remaining preserves in the world for the endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly. Our quality improvement program is a large part of our commitment to produce the finest fuels. This refinery-wide program is designed to ensure that the transportation fuels we produce meet your expectations for performance, are delivered on time, and are manufactured safely and in an environmentally sound way. At its foundation is a climate of mutual respect and teamwork that fosters continual improvement.’ The same information could be found on their About page.

The erratic stretch of the ocean tides mean that the Chevron oil can land almost anywhere north or south of the intended target. However, the oil that reaches landfall is still property of the company, and so is that land it rests upon at least until Chevron can remove it. So there are parts of Santa Monica all the way down to Palos Verdes that belong to Chevron. And it does not just end there, the property rights extend beyond land.

Max Caydance, 35, and his daughter Nillie, 8, were walking along the beach in El Segundo when the oil started washing ashore.

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Unaware of what was happening, the next thing Max knew, he and his daughter were covered in Chevron property. ‘It was everywhere,’ Max recalled. ‘One minute we were walking with our feet in the water, then this big black wave comes and knocks us both over. We were pulled into the ocean. It was so hard to get out. I fought so hard to keep Nillie’s head above water, and not swallow any of it. It was so thick. So damn black. When I finally got us back to shore this guy was waiting for us and said we had to get in the back of his truck. He worked for Chevron. I thought he was going to help get us cleaned up.’

What Max and Nillie did not realize was that under LALFA (and upheld in the other landmark Finn McFaddion v Pep Boys Manny, Moe & Jack Supreme Court decision) they were technically owned by Chevron until all the oil was removed from their bodies. ‘That was a real shock, yeah,’ according to Max. But he is not the only person this has happened to. A reported sixty people have been recently struck by as little as a dollop of Chevron oil, and are now property of the company. ‘They say they know it’s theirs, too, because they fitted all the oil with micro-trackers. That’s also how they can find you at anytime. You know, in case you decide to try and make a break for it.’ Like the oil that is on them, the ‘human-capital’ must remain on the premises of the refinery.

‘They’re not being held against their will,’ Vanessa Quaruulioss wanted to make perfectly clear.Academy2 ‘That’s definitely not happening here. They can leave whenever they want, just as long as they are no longer technically our property. Until then, the human-capital must remain in the possession of Chevron in order to ensure the protection and maintenance of the product.’

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She then sent another follow-up email within minutes: ‘We have the right to protect our assets. It’s in the LALFA. No one can hold it against Chevron if they want to protect their valuables. And like with any of our products, either with living tissue or the natural byproduct of an ancient organic compound, we have every right to exploit them to our fullest advantage, and since they are property and unequivocally not workers, we are not obliged to compensate them.’ And then minutes later, another: ‘We’ve been a part of this community since 1911 when the main product produced was kerosene for lamps. In fact, the City of El Segundo (Spanish for “the Second”) was named after the refinery, then Standard Oil’s second in California. Today, the El Segundo Refinery provides jobs for more than 1,100 450 500 Chevron employees and 500 50 60 contractors, covers approximately 1,000 1,5000 acres, has more than 1,100 2,560 miles of pipelines, and is capable of refining 290 534 thousand barrels of crude oil per day. Transportation fuels–gasoline, jet and diesel–are the primary products refined from the crude oil. We are responsible caretakers of our land and the

environment, we operate our own electricity, steam, and water treatment facilities, and even maintain one of the only two remaining preserves in the world for the endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly. Our quality improvement program is a large part of our commitment to produce the finest fuels. This refinery-wide program isAcademy2designed to ensure that the transportation fuels we produce meet your expectations for performance, are delivered on time, and are manufactured safely and in an environmentally sound way. At its foundation is a climate of mutual respect and teamwork that fosters continual improvement.’

 

These new slaves human-capital cannot leave the premises, cannot contact the outside world, are not allowed to speak or come in contact with any of the other workers at the refinery.

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‘It wouldn’t do us any good even if we could,’ Max informed. ‘Everyone there that isn’t marked doesn’t want to be touched. Because one touch, one drop of this stuff and you belong to them. So all the other workers are terrified of us. They don’t want nothing to do with us. They hate us really.’ The human-capital lives in what can be best described as a shanty town under-developed, squalid alternative housing units in the heart of the installation right next to the large hydrofluoric acid containers. ‘Fights break out at night because someone’s got something the other person wants. Food’s always short.

 

Or because someone is just pissed. You know it’s tough. They work us for hours, I don’t know how long. We can’t speak to anyone outside or that ain’t marked. It drives us crazy. And that’s not all. Some of us showed up with kids we haven’t seen since entering the facilities. They tell us they’re doing well and being taken care of, but I have no way of knowing.’

‘They’re fine. Everyone is fine,’ Vanessa wrote.Academy2 ‘The newer human-capital are just as valuable to the company as the older. There is absolutely zero age discrimination going on here at Chevron. It’s just, what with their smaller features and all, the newer human-capital are perfect for crawling up in pipes for cleanings and repairs, or larger machines to replace parts.

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So obviously we keep them a little busier than the rest. But that’s not necessarily preferential treatment. We’re an equal opportunity company.’ Then about ten seconds later: ‘We’ve been a part of this community since 1911 when the main product produced was kerosene for lamps… …At its foundation is a climate of mutual respect and teamwork that fosters continual improvement.’

With its beaches covered in the dreggs of the Earth’s deep past, and threat of privatization of the individual a wave away, most people visiting the Los Angeles area are sure to stay away from the beaches south of Venice. New protocols have been put in place toAcademy2 set off alerts for oil sightings in the ocean, and have plenty of Dawn soap on hand. However, life guards equipped with the necessary oil-avoidance training are now freelance workers, so people must pay for the protection before deciding to go into the water, or risk being completely on their own.

Perhaps if Max and Nillie had someone Academy2 looking out for them, they might not have had to worry about a sludge wave barreling towards them, altering their futures entirely. This is something Max does not consider: ‘Yeah, it’s a real shame to be covered in tar and have to work for the company in perpetuity without ever seeing my family or friends again. But I guess it was my own fault in the first place for being on the beach. I should have known better. You know, Chevron has been a part of this community since 1911…’


Editor’s Note: In early-July, Chevron announced a new plan to sell more of its oil to foreign countries rather than the United States in order to generate more profits: Mexico and China are the largest buyers.”