8.72: Blue Cube Cafe

 I spy with my little eye a place where one might spy Eric. Photo by Dan Johnson.

I spy with my little eye a place where one might spy Eric. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

I went down to the Blue Cube on Spring St south of 2nd St to see if I could find Eric.

I’m not a geometry expert, but the dimensions of the powder blue greasy spoon do not appear to conform to the standards of purely mathematical cubism.

If we’re going on the artistic definition where geometric figures blend and dissolve in a larger exercise in aesthetic topology, then yeah, I guess this long-tenured haunt is cubist.

The interior is festooned with album covers from a seemingly monochromatic host of artists including George Gershwin, Dan Fogelberg, Alice Cooper, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Roy Orbison, Neil Young, Rod Stewart and Marshall Tucker. These faces collide with a very much alive fellow hiding behind the rectangle that separates counter from kitchen.

The only other customer in the joint correctly identified the owner as a sort of wild uncle archetype. He is the nexus at which the planes of maturing rock culture, cheap eats and Civic Center sensibilities merge.

This is the sort of place I imagine Eric would like. Its nonchalant design and laid back vibes harken back to a free-spirited form of utilitarian small business that smacks of the things Eric espouses when he talks about our city.

I half-hoped I’d run into him at the Blue Cube. Alas, the restaurant apparently did not have a high enough population of elite social media figures to merit Eric’s presence. Or perhaps he was off campaigning for President somewhere else.

I wanted to like Eric. I think a lot of us did. I wanted to believe that his twitter game and Insta-obsession were natural extensions of a strong core built to withstand the pressures of municipal governance. I wanted to see him as a better dressed Jerry Brown who could sit and chew the fat like an actual human being, while he was quietly seething over some master stroke of civic engineering that would balance tough decisions with a sense of urgency.

Deep into his second term, I can’t help but resent Eric when I see him slinging drinks at Tom Bergin’s on St. Pat’s or wandering aimlessly through South Carolina dishing vague promises and half-hearted smiles to people who are not his constituents.

It’s fine to take time off to do fun things. Self-care we call it.

However, I grew up in a twice-a-week church family rooted in American militarism. If I brought home a shitty report card, nobody ruffled my hair and said, “gee, it must be the school’s fault—don’t worry about it, start campaigning for next year’s popularity contest.”

Fuck no. If I didn’t do my work, I lost Frasier privileges so that I had to hit the goddam books and do better.

I would think a Garcetti would be especially sensitive to letting a “sure thing” like the equitable development of Downtown slip through the city’s fingers on his watch.   

That’s exactly what we’re watching. The extremely quarrelsome, cacophonous, fractious debate we have in Downtown regarding housing, homelessness, mental health, infrastructure and all our other myriad growing pains has become such a cluster fuck because a grim street scene suffers in the extreme for want of any sort of central voice assuring us that some wise hand is at work behind the scenes.  

I understand your predicament, Eric. I get it. You’re fucked on this one. In Atari. Checkmate.

You inherited a situation that is incredibly complex and long-standing. The neighborhood rejuvenation that was to be the marquee accomplishment of your Mayoral tenure has turned into a lightning rod of controversy. HHH seems well-intentioned, but has had the same sort of effect as sending out snowplows in July for January’s blizzard. Mass transit’s coming and there’ll be changes to zoning policy, maybe, but it’s all a bit late for our tastes.

Also, the state has you behind the 8-ball that is Prop 47 and Prop 57. Jerry ain’t gonna give you a state of Emergency and Magic Mike Feuer’s civil forfeiture policy isn’t cutting it.

Of course, you can’t unleash the cops on the tents or the drug dealers without the ACLU, BLM and LACAN running a train on your supposed fondness for diversity and social justice. Meanwhile, no stakeholder in Downtown has anything nice to say about you because the street-level reality of day-to-day life adjacent to the human rights crisis is grim at best and terrifying at worst. So you’re getting pressured to pay for comprehensive mental health, which is deeply fucked because you’re putting the city on the hook for millions and millions of dollars of future spending that will come out of the pockets of the Hollywood Hills donors you’re relying on to finance your next big political move and, besides, any piece of lenient or compassionate city policy loses you the fringe voters in the valley who want desperately to associate you with some Steve Bannon fashioned accusations of cuckoldry.

Worst of all, you need all of these people to vote for you. So the safest move is to make incremental, ineffective gestures. Even those backfire on you when you waltz into Skid Row during your second term to congratulate General Dogon only to have him tear your fancy piece of paper up in front of the news media.

It’s a really shitty situation, Eric. Unfortunately, there’s a person we collectively elect to handle that shit and that person is you.

To quote Robert Frost, “the best way out is always through.” We need momentum to satiate our frustrations. Maybe things are really starting to hum up there in the City Hall, but it feels dead in the water down here in the Historic Core. With every passing day in the horse latitudes, you’re starting to sound more and more like Tommy Carcetti who himself resembles Martin O’Malley whose similarly ambitious run for national office ended with a whimper.

Eric, the sense here is that you’re galavanting around the country like you’re Luke Skywalker when, in my mind at least, you’re not even Wedge Antilles.

Sometimes you’ve got to turn off the targeting computer and take a tough shot from the gut if you want to blow up the Death Star. Otherwise you run the risk of ending up like Red Leader and hitting the exhaust port surface only to get waxed by the Darth Vader known as public scrutiny.

I’m thinking Star Wars because the original John Williams soundtrack is tacked to the wall at the Blue Cube just above my eye line as Uncle Blue Cube delivers my six-dollar order of signature sourdough pancakes with complimentary bacon.

 The arrangement of the bacon on the author's plate reminds us of Eric's grin. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The arrangement of the bacon on the author's plate reminds us of Eric's grin. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Uncle Blue Cube has owned the joint for five years. The previous owner manned the helm for thirteen years. When the signature sourdough pancakes were introduced, I am not sure. They are very enjoyable, nonetheless. Crepe-like in thinness and imbued with a certain yeasty aftertaste, they buck the trend of overly sweet fluff flapjack gutbombs.

There are ample other opportunities to eat for cheap at the Blue Cube. Omelettes, burritos, breakfast sandwiches all come in below the frugal-line. I’d say I’m shocked to see this place empty, but I recently watched as a crew of dudes beat a man bloody on 5th St between Broadway and Spring St with a metal couch leg only for two motorcycle cops to drive by and do nothing before a fire engine came so the beaten sod could decline medical assistance. I’m fairly desensitized.

Eric, my main man, it’s not too late, guy. There’s still time and you don’t even have to travel that far. If you want to be President or Grand Poobah of the loyal order of water buffaloes or whatever it is you so desire, you can win those laurels on the merits of what you accomplish here.

The crisis of democracy is a crisis of liberalism that pits techno-elite hyper achievers against the disenfranchised in a battle for the mantle of “progressivism.” The heir apparent to the resistance against disingenuous corporate Christian feudalism is the one that can reconcile market forces, be they developers or crack dealers, with the communities they affect.

Eric, you have the opportunity to be the guy who creates the blueprint for effective governance in the 21st century. The problem for you is that it’s goddam difficult. It requires stepping on toes and making tough decisions that forsake the coalition-building pandering that major party mouthpieces want to see before they declare you a “rising star.”

Los Angeles should not be a launching pad for rising stars. It should be a destination. You’ve already arrived. Let’s focus on the here and now.

I award the Blue Cube a “1” on the binary. I’ll give Eric a much-dreaded “incomplete grade,” because tough love is the only love that matters in Los Angeles.