Entry 1

Repainting graffiti

Saturdays are usually eclectic and unpredictable; this one was no exception.

I begin my day at 9 a.m., joining more than 50 activists from all eight neighborhoods in my council district (Hollywood, East Hollywood/Little Armenia, Silver Lake, Historic Filipinotown, Echo Park, Atwater Village, Elysian Valley, and Glassell Park) who had gathered at our district office for the launch of UNTAG—Uniting Neighborhoods To Abolish Graffiti—an initiative to reduce graffiti by 50 percent in the next two years. Though the 250,000 residents of the district I represent speak more than 100 languages and span the political spectrum, something I’ve noticed over the last three years as their representative is that they all seem to hate graffiti. Garage doors, light posts, bus stops, businesses, streets, sidewalks, billboards, freeways, windows, and trucks throughout the district are constantly being “tagged,” sometimes by young people who want to see their name in public spaces, and often by gang members marking their territories for control of the local drug trade. There are no easy answers, but UNTAG combines neighborhood activism, targeted paint-outs, police stings, and youth prevention programs to combat this problem.

After a short orientation, I head over to an apartment complex in Historic Filipinotown, next to the Hollywood Freeway, and paint out graffiti on the walls of the building. It feels good to paint the wall and to know that there will be dozens of folks throughout the district doing the same thing in their own neighborhoods.

Slightly out of breath, at about 10:45 I jump into the passenger seat of my hydrogen-powered city vehicle. As one of my deputies drives, I change out of paint-stained jeans and a T-shirt into a slightly more presentable outfit so that I can cut the ribbon at the opening of India Sweets and Spices in Atwater Village, on the northeast edge of my district. I hope no one will glance over from their car and suddenly see their councilman in his underpants.

At India Sweets and Spices

India Sweets and Spices is a Los Angeles institution, a combination of grocery store, Bollywood DVD center, and food counter, but this is its first outpost in Atwater Village. Within a few blocks, there will now be Indian, Armenian, British, Italian, Dutch, Cuban, Mexican, and Filipino cuisine, a truly global food court. As a half-Mexican, half-Jew with an Italian last name, I feel right at home.

With a DJ spinning disco bhangra music in the background, I give a short speech and take our office’s giant pair of ceremonial gold scissors and cut a ribbon with the store owner. Being ceremonial, the scissors don’t cut the ribbon, but someone lends us a real, albeit smaller, set of shears to make it official. A Hindu priest gives me a blessing.

I arrive back at the district office as our UNTAGgers return. No one seems fazed by the fact that I have a red dot on my forehead, that I am wearing a different outfit, and that there are giant red, white, and green garlands around my neck.

Our UNTAG volunteers have identified more than 500 graffiti locations and we have arranged to have them painted out by Monday. The mood is good, optimistic, and people leave energized.

I spend the balance of the afternoon with my partner, Amy. We head to Panty Raid, a women’s underwear store in Silver Lake, which has its own “male day-care center” (a Sharp Aquos monitor connected to a Sony PlayStation, a complete year’s collection of Maxim, and two comfy chairs). Amy gets what seem like the world’s softest pajamas.

That evening, I join my friend Zeb to watch the Lakers on television as they close out their second-round series against the Spurs. Los Angeles is a city often portrayed as fragmented, but Lakers season unites this town. The season is suddenly looking better than it has in some time.

Sundays are much calmer than Saturdays. After working seven days a week for the first two years in office—I have been in office for three years—I realized that it is important to have one day off, to have time to run errands, recharge, hang with friends, etc.

In the morning, Amy and I prune, fertilize, and water our fruit trees out back. The pomegranates look particularly promising this year.

A few hours later, we head to a new wine shop that has opened in Silver Lake and is having a tasting. Silver Lake is often described in terms that range from “artsy” to “bohemian.” The truth is a bit more complicated. Like Echo Park, just next door, where we live, Silver Lake is a community with immigrant families, creative types, couples of every persuasion.

We walk by the tattoo parlor next to the wine store and Julio, the self-appointed “Mayor of Silver Lake” (which in Silver Lake entails piercings, tattoos, and trimmed facial hair), jumps out to say hi and tells me how weird it is to see me “out of uniform.”  I promise him tomorrow that I will be back in suit and tie, but in the meantime I am glad to be comfortably unshaven in a Hang Ten T-shirt.

The Silverlake Wine Store is locally owned and operated and the proprietors have an amazing collection of reasonably priced but unique wines. I met them about a year ago when they wanted to know how to navigate the city bureaucracy. Since the store’s opening, everyone in the neighborhood seems very pleased with the place.

Zeb meets us there with his Australian wife, Nina, and their two boys, who are very well-behaved while their parents play. The wines are all rosé and the store has provided some empanadas and other food to go with the libations. The tasting changes everyone’s opinion about rosé wines. (“Wow, these aren’t like the ones Mom used to drink!”)

After we have our fill, we stop in Rockaway Records next door, an independent record store where, amid the original Bauhaus albums and the Samantha Fox 45s, you expect Jack Black and John Cusack to ask if they can help you. I get excited when I see the Sparks’ In Outer Space (my favorite record for the entirety of the eighth grade) and ask Nina if she knows it. “I don’t think that made it to Australia,” she says with a charitable smile.

James with his new tattoo 

As we walk by the tattoo parlor next door, Nina and Zeb’s son James decides he wants a tattoo, but his parents think he might be a bit young. I dart in to see if they have some decal tattoos. One of the artists agrees to draw a temporary tattoo with a pen. James gets a killer dragon drawn on his arm. Nothing beats the smiling face of a kid with his first tattoo. Even if he’s only 4.

Being a councilman means living a life defined by velocity. But now, as I write, the sun is setting over the Echo Park hills, Amy is in her new pajamas, and a steady breeze calms the neighborhood.