If you’re like me, you’ve been patiently awaiting Sam Sweet’s next volume in his All Night Menu series since, 2014 or 15 (the dates get fuzzy after awhile). The point is, it’s a continuation of an idiosyncratic but essential project: to map the Los Angeles area via one man’s connection to certain places, people, dates and events. He’s done so through a series of booklet-sized releases on brown paper with black ink and illustrations. They’re simple visually, but there’s something defiantly concrete about the presentation, a forthrightness that heads off any charge that the writer is making too much of minutiae, of events lacking in scale. Sweet writes that, “The city is vast and amorphous. This booklet is small and precise. It is not a walking tour, a visitor’s guidebook, or a street atlas. It is a periodic index of lost heroes and miniature histories. Its only objective is to make the invisible equal to the visible.”
You can find an excerpt from the new volume here. It’s a perfect illustration of Sweet’s point, and I dare say a pretty irresistible peek at the project. It portrays the dignity of the personal, struggling against the irresistible forces of policy and social change, as here in the excerpt from “501 N. Mednik:”
The Maravilla gangs multiplied in the 1980s and Mednik became a combat zone. Stray rounds left scars on the rebote, but like a church, Michi’s remained unscathed. Never robbed, never tagged. Maras in L.A. County Jail would use their one payphone privilege to call the store, knowing Michi would always be there to accept the charges and relay a message to anyone in the varrio. Sometimes she’d be asked to hold a paper bag behind the counter. Her son implored her otherwise. “People think you’re involved,” he said. She shooed him off. The men outside had once peered wide-eyed into her candy counter. They were her customers. “Besides,” she said, “I never look inside.”
The $1 sandwiches she started making for club members were so popular that every day someone would come in for a “Michi sandwich,” though they were never on a menu. In the face of rising costs and supermarket competition, she refused to raise prices. “The people can’t afford that,” she told her son, who later discovered she was supporting the store with her life savings. In a boom year, a Korean developer offered them a million for the lot. Thomas was incredulous when he found out they turned it down. Tommy shrugged. “I’m waiting for two million.” As Michi got older and smaller, the shelves seemed to grow taller around her. The wooden grabber from the ‘30s leaned against towers of cereal that nearly touched the ceiling. She developed painful sores from standing all day. Each day, an aging gangster from Lomita Mara would walk over from the projects to put healing lotion on her aching feet.
The good news? All three volumes are still available. The bad news? Volume 1 is all but gone – these are only editions of 500, after all, and they’re hand numbered and come with a note from the author. You can see how the process unfolds here. You can also find a little more from Sam Sweet in the New Yorker.
- John McIntyre