Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The mayor says "likely, thousands" referring to the death toll from Katrina in New Orleans. This is no "American Tsunami," and it's distressing to hear that phrase because the rest of the country (heck, the world) knew about the hurricane a day or so before it hit, and heard repeated warnings that it was necessary to leave. I think assumptions about stubborness on the victims' part are moot. Poverty, mental and physical illness probably contributed more to these people being trapped than their own recalcitrance. What do you do in the event that you don't have a car and when you're all alone in a city that has neglected you for decades? You can only climb onto the rooftop for so long before the water goes over it. The hurricane lasted a few hours and picked off a few dozen here and there, but it is the broken levees, designed by men in suits to hold back the inevitable, that have done in these victims. Civil engineering arrogance did nothing to stop the Mississippi floods 15 years ago, or to hold together the Bay Bridge in 1989 or the I-5/14 L.A. interchange in '94 or the incessant coastal mudslides of Southern California. We expect nature to submit to our whims when we build cities in places they have no business being (even Las Vegas, like preserved glass in the dry heat, can only last until the next Ice Age). Mostly, New Orleans has filled like the sink it is; its foolhardy pipes have backed up with sharks and sewage in the mix and its basin has overflown. Intransigent nature eventually trumps human stubborness, even if it takes 300 years.

Monday, August 29, 2005

What can ya do? Katrina's everything Lionel Barrymore described. But not quite. A couple months ago I mumbled some hurricane hummenah with the suggestion that interest in such catastrophes wanes (that word again) over summer. Well, not when one as cataclysmic as this comes along! Hoo-boy, we got us a category 5 coming right at ...wait, make that a category 4, category 2... shucks, it's getting smaller, and with it, all the excitement. Besides, all those people drove out of town. Dangummit, where's the high death count (apparently numbers are relative)? All that NPR and CNN, (well, Yahoo! News) wasted on nothin'. Meanwhile I'd like to know why they keep NOLA there in the first place. Shouldn't they hang their heads in shame?

Guess 300 years ago the French didn't think much about sea levels and such. They built their little slave port on that ugly ol' swamp as a gateway to the browner Americas and to ease trade with the West Indies. Not unprecedented. Where would Amsterdam be without drainage and reclaimed wetlands? "Reclamation," after all, implies that it belonged to the people in the first place, and engineers and city planners are just official repo men. All land belongs to us, and a hurricane is just another of nature's brutal tactics to wrestle it out of our hands, like a nighttime mugger going for our money. The city needed, economically, to remain even after it burned down, and so the occupying Spanish rebuilt it all pretty like. How can you sell kidnapped Africans without a place to do business? Need to carry the cargo on ships, gotta dock them ships somewhere nearby. Might as well have a lot of shiny hotels and entertainment so the buyers will feel generous at the auction. And after that, well, after a Civil War made the whole big-money reason irrelevant, there was no turning back. The town had so much old world charm.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The readership of this waning experiment remains sporadic and disinterested: quick clicks from random searches, a faithful sister, occasional hits from a curious windy-city grad student who picked it up in the Crooked Corners Library, a pair who write their own exquisite blog in Greece and one bored co-worker. My own mother only thinks to read it after we talk on the phone, and my so-called best friend the psychic can't get into it--"too tricky," she says, which is fine. Why would she bother to read what she already knows via smoother supernatural channels? We foraging creatures on the move have very little time to waste. And after all, our friends and family have only low-interest stock in our aesthetic forays, knowing full well that a true investment would not pay off, much. I suspect most human relationships hinge on convenience of geographic or genetic happenstance despite the advances we have made in communication and transportation. Out of sight, out of mind, they say, and in this busy 21st century, techie doodads and clogged roadways limit loyalty to coincidental meetings or the stubborn effort of social holdouts like myself as much as deserts and broken telegraph wires did 150 years ago.

Following the line of that tangent, last night, opting against reruns or getting too far into a new book after having just finished Gore Vidal's illuminating Burr, I shoved myself out the door and into the car in order to drive the five miles canyon-wise to town...("to town" in this place where everything is a town sounds anachronistic, doesn't it, like foghorns or the bellow of tule elk). Town, of course, stops short of the water, and that was my true goal: to face out into the dark swell and contemplate absence. But some odd unknown barge of floodlights sat offshore and fine-lined my shadow, as if I had come onto a cabaret stage to sing. Nothing doing. Instead I walked away from salt and sand back up to the street, where someone I know, ancillary to someone else I know better, was checking his cell phone messages in the doorway of a restaurant.

Aaron, more than a little inebriated, said that he was in search of a cheeseburger, which he believed would make him less drunk so he could drive to LA. The restaurant was inconveniently closed, however, so he lured me another block, bought some Cheetos at a liquor store and ate them on our way back to the club where our mutual friend Jason lurked somewhere inside. I shared with Aaron the regret that I hadn't heard from Jason for a long time, since before I headed south into suburbia, and that all emails and phone calls, spaced far apart, had not received a reply. "Stay here," Aaron said, patting me on the back and wiping his cheese doodle fingers on my linen shirt. "I'll go get him." Half an hour later, the friend I've known for eight years finally wandered out, so far gone that he wouldn't recognize his own reflection, much less someone he hasn't seen for 20 months. So I tugged him over and kept our reaquaintance lecture free, discerned from his wide pupils and angry voice that his soapy life had endured predictable lumps as of late. Aaron scolded Jason for dwelling, but our friend shook his head and said, "Erik hasn't heard it."

Well, that's a shame.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The withdrawal of settlers from the rural Midwest proceeds and has sparked a number of controversial plans for the altered landscape. Should we hand it over to the descendents of early inhabitants, who might encourage bison herds to regroup at a legendary scale? I dunno. The tribal hunters and gatherers of yesteryear exterminated their share of good eats, mowing down mastadons and giant sloths like pheasants in October. How about establishing a new habitat for threatened animals whose own continent may no longer be able to support them? Better than your average drive-around zoo, I suppose, but kinda sad and dangerous. Just because we got all grabby in the nature pot early on doesn't mean we can make up for it by being randomly bulimic.

The introduction of (hu)man(s) to any environment has consequences readily observable by anthropologists and, these days, anyone with a TV. The construction of homes on an "uninhabited" strip of Mediterranean real estate not only brought about decades of war, but the population decline of many desert species. Homo homo sapiens started out intrinsic to the natural world, but once we spread out over the continents, other mammals and their non-furry allies lost territory left and right.

What remains behind, when properly abandoned, can probably with encouragement make a comeback. But it takes a lot of dollars, detail and progressive politics to return an ecosystem to the epoch of yore. Still, if it can be done in the Golden State, there's hope.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The diminutive elf causes mischief, misdirecting with its magic. It can be heroic, as Legolas in "The Lord of the Rings," and is often misunderstood, like Hermey the dentist, pal of Rudolph.

When a California Hummer dealership and some of its patrons found their trucks slightly molten as if by hail of anger in 2003, a news anchor(woman) led the story with the blurb "Domestic terrorism in the Southland!" Since the event had happened some time at night and only cameras witnessed the aggression, the report stood out as egregious hyperbole. Molotov cocktails differ from rolls of toilet paper, indeed, but not a single person suffered loss of life or limb.

Eventually, as expected, ELF was also, aptly, blamed. An acronym formed not out of irony, ELF finds itself on watchlists and in GOP spam equated with Osama, the Saudi, et al.

Should our lexicon co-opt "terrorism" (an attempt to elicit change by use of fear and the application of indiscriminate harm) to describe the boneheaded acts of petty vandals with a message? Of course the men and women who commit crimes in the name of their cause deserve contempt and maybe even airplay as shoddy anarchist amateurs wo go about things the wrong way. But as our society begins to equate Muslims with terrorism, as it does, it could also begin to equate environmentalism with the same misapplied word. And, as if to underscore the absence of logic that permeates our current ill-mannered war on terror, the damage done to the climate by voracious Hummers and their offroad cousins is labeled not as an act of stupidity or ignorance, greed or selfishness (or of terrorism), but of red-blooded American choice--of citizens celebrating freedom and their basic right to buy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

It's tiring, even deadening to hear the same words over and over again ("threatened," "endangered," "facing extinction") and not resent the stubborn stupidity of those who pretend deafness in order to go on breeding and imposing on the globe their gross superstition. Stewards of the earth, kicked out of the garden, resent the place from where they came. And twin to this selfish grudge is greed; that's why fishermen "with no other option" enjoy anti-conservationist notoriety--the Simon Peters of ecological ignorance (if only they would follow Jesus away from their boats). If God created the earth, they seem to believe, he made it for them to exploit. One current creationist conspiracy underway in the Galapagos pits disciple against evolution. Do men who worship fish intend to crush Darwin by eliminating the source of his epiphany? It isn't just geriatric tortoises that lose their beach property. The legendary uniqueness of the archipelago must fight two millenia of holier-than-thou fruitful excess, not to mention corrupt officials--the direct descendents of Catholicism's founders--with a sovereign entitlement to invade and pillage as usual. Is it something in the genes, passed down from generation to generation? I suppose not.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The fog doesn't sink low enough to comingle with degenerates. It hovers just above our heads as if to impede us from some blessed heaven that is, after all, imaginary. Beneath this bleak blockade of weather we forget the lie of eternal bliss above the grey, the hopeful myth that good behavior somehow manifests a reward of peace. Down here on the potholed pavement of an abandoned hotel, somewhere near the ocean shore, even parking has its dangers. The orange refinery casts cataclysmic light across the black ribbon of railroad tracks and complements the neo-gothic mise en scene. I hear the whistle and gathering gallop of a passing train, but see nothing. I feel that I have witnessed the appropriate wail of a ghost.

In the meantime a reunion of sorts takes place in one desperate corner of this darkened seaside dump. I "know" people here, but not well enough. Some I know more than others. Some, it seems, know each other. Some I wish I didn't know. Some I wish I knew, but have never met, and would probably regret knowing if I did. I feign oblivious enchantment with these vain, unsavory characters, the derivative cast of an 18th-century novel, complete with morose political and romantic intrigue. Yet they have corrupted and devolved, maintaining all the sensuality and sophistication of flies that need swatting. Is this self-contempt? Or simply cold observation and a hallucinogenic longing for the low clouds to open up and let me rise? Since I know that such glories do not happen, I linger in this seedy paradox and only dream of paradise.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

There's a lot of junk off the freeway near quaint Granada Hills, where middle class housewives hate to wake up knowing that while they were dreaming of the next American Idol, LA's garbage depository doubled in size. They would have this trash heaped somewhere else, while mindlessly, I suspect, contributing to it every time they get the chance. Vaguely enlightened by asthma and cancer, Los Angeles recycles roughly 60 percent of its throw-outables and strives, mostly by lack of storage space, to push that number higher. The low-grade century-long real estate explosion that hisses and bubbles in fits and starts continues, and developers could fill those canyons with condos if the acreage wasn't already slated for last year's computer and yesterday's Evian bottle. Perhaps decades from now when all is paved and parked, the land's extra layer of human refuse will prove a techie benefaction. Companies that profit in 2005 from divvying up the ecosystem can later reap funds for stitching it back together. Buy stock in these high-tech companies and then wait. Your investment will pay off.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Behind the crunch of wine-and-cheese galleries, art shows ad nauseum, and the summer festivals that clog the only eastbound route out of town with headlights and anglo seniors, a forgotten artifact known as the Pacific stretches grey and white into a misty haze. It might be dark except for the Edison-induced eternal daylight of the coast, and the waves, I gather, would be black without a moon.

During sunny hours the beach serves as playground to chimp descendents and their detractors. Volleyball and surfing, a little swimming, people sunning lizardesque. Snorklers and their mechanized SCUBA cousins raise their goggled heads beside submerged rocks, then dive back under, while children casually risk giant waves and death while their mommies tap dance with them over the cramped tide pools, cautiously approaching anything pink, unworried about the undertow that at any moment could suck them out into the hungry abyss.

But this is night, lit haphazardly with white beams that protect porches and balconies from that which lurks. Confused birds swoop across the water and glean the surface. Cargo pallets and fishing wire tangle at the water's edge. Couples make out on square black blankets until the waves crash over them and contribute to their love life a natural mixture of salt, sand and kelp.

I stand alone, why not, watching all this and wondering if there is a fish, by instinct used to darkness, struck as I am by the electric lights where his environment ends and another begins, where the wall of the continent blocks egress like so many shuttle buses and elderly fans of manmade art.