On parole in L.A. my feet find their way. I know I'm not really missed (I made no impression while I wandered here for 10 years or so), but it is still a comfort as my shoes greet the sidewalks all friendly-like.
The city is a blanket that curls up around me for a hundred miles. Out there in neosuburbia, my feet stick out. I like the trails, the sea, but I get cold toes.
Here in the center of my old home I'm all warm and cozy. I know it's tattered and smelly and threadbare, it's stained with spots and needs to be stitched up in a lot of places, maybe even thrown out. But how do I rid myself of something so comfortable? Its patches of exotic cloth may clash, but they exist at a known intersection, they somehow belong. They are like my memories of living here, of all the walks along the boulevards and avenues in the baddest moods, seeing the same homeless faces every day, hearing all the noise, smelling all the funk. I am selfishly fond of these moments.
Maybe if I didn't know the history, it wouldn't mean as much. But I'm aware that Cherokee, a street where I used to live, is inaccessible today, near the nucleus of that wide circle protecting the Oscar ceremony from the lower classes. A few years ago they wouldn't have thought they'd come back to this filthy place, but the stars, such as they are, have returned. I can't blame them.
I could sense by the volume and duration of Friday night's 12-hour downpour that a lake had formed over Laguna Canyon Road again. And sho nuff some time before dawn one of those stealth divisions of local government had snuck orange cones across both ends, redirecting mindless drivers who thought they could carry on as if the sun was shining Saturday morn. A deluge is a deluge, folks. Stagecoach needs to rest a while.
People have so much faith in their own survival and in the infallibility of their plans. They can't wrap their mind around this nuisance known to the rest of the world as weather. Southern California is designed for the sun. If it rained like this every year, a lot of people would pack up and move on to Mars.
It's Tuesday morning now; still coming down. It's disappointing when the curtain of water rises and it quiets for a spell. I don't know what to do, I feel like the popcorn bag is empty, there's nothing to watch on the screen, only static on the radio and a blank canvas on the wall. It's all so post-modern, until I remember those lovely words: "scattered showers." Ah, here comes the rain again.
So this is sorta pointless, like I said before. Who's gonna read it besides so and so and what's his face, familial familiarity and some people who click with curiosity and flee quick finding no nekkid pix and nothin' to needle the needy neurochemicals of noodles all dry and gasping from too much prattle on the TV. I am this close to dropping away from the cliff, no catcher to intercept me from the field of rye; that field long gone since roundabout 1975 they mowed it down and made it into a subdivision, addition, development, community what have you, and called it Cuesta Verde or Quail Oaks or Ho-Hum Estates. Gotta woods behind my house with a fort; we build an igloo in the winter, no plans, but it works, it's nice and cozy but kinda small near the swingset, though it melts so fast; winter is always over really quick. You hate it too long to start to love it when it's gone.
Back and forth a few times on that wide wet street (raining again), circling parking lots, getting out of the way of countless Ford F-150s, chasing street names that change east to west. Finally I find the numbers outside a high-rise by the airport, follow the "P" into the innocuous pale garage, "P" my car up a level, walk down, cross a paved walk and push, then pull, a glass door. An old guard at a desk says something, but I'm not sure what at first, until I see another set of glass doors to my right. He has greeted me with the words "Welcome to the museum." It is much more like entering a bank.
The exhibit opened today; small works by an adept California Impressionist, the victim of an incapacitating automobile accident who had lots of time on his hands afterward. He painted the coast near Monterey and up to San Jose, sometimes further, over and over again, demarcating familiar place names on board and paper. You can see the seasons and the years change, you know old from new. The hues range from purple to green to gold, as they do here in California. The foreground is flowers or grasses or rocks, a twisted cypress or a crashing wave in the middle. The horizon alters from hazy to crisp as the edge of a dime.
This is my favorite kind of art, even though it makes me furious. William Wendt got me hooked with a giant canvas at LACMA. He painted in full detail what lies beneath the last century of incorrigible growth. It isn't just that the past has been recorded so accessibly (and then used to thwart its own subject). It is that one cannot really access it at all. What is there is so strikingly realistic but unreal, so frustratingly close to what we know but so far from where we actually live.
There's a 24-inch painting by Wendt available at a gallery in Laguna Beach, sort of where I live, but it's $145, 000. That's a good $400,000 cheaper than the average price of a house out here. Somebody loan me the money.
It's another of those classic 75-degree, gorgeous, preturnatural days in Southern California that makes you realize why 20 million people live here, over 10,000 on Skid Row alone. The constancy of freeway traffic--its never-ceasing blur of noise filling the valleys like a perpetual locust cloud--whispers into our ears with the familiarity of an old friend. Discarded fast-food detritus chases itself playfully across the streets, meets at corners, rushes off to other parts of town. Advertisements scroll across the horizon leashed to biplanes, a fine linear aesthetic parallel to the waste-capped waves on the oily ocean below, always rolling, never at rest. Palpitating helicopters, private jets and whispy industry clouds seem content to linger in the rain-washed sky, blue for at least a day. I love to see the mountains and the sea at once, I love the gleam of semi-trucks hauling their wares to Wal-Mart and beyond (the smaller ones to Chinatown, its scent of ancient grease, its sidewalks scuffed and pocked). Ah, nature! I love to shield my forehead from the sun, to stand still in the breeze, to feel an ant meander across my hand.
Black and slippery birds continue to bubble up onto the beaches of southern California. The cause, some think: abandoned wells and pipelines in Ventura County that leaked a little, jogged loose by last month's rain. That's north of L.A., where the previous century meets suburbia and an influx of people has induced industry flight. Corporations not only hit the road when families show up, they help build houses. Even the military has to tiptoe around suburbia. Dried up factories can't pollute carte blanche, and petroleum companies, eyes on Arabia, choose whether to do the right thing or run for the hills -- or out of them, leaving the land to fend for itself. I wish we could place bets on the latter.
A gruesome gray lesion on the earth's soft skin, the cancer of the angels stubbornly grows. The east-west range of the Santa Monica mountains remains green, protected by a hurried '70's mandate and today completely surrounded by festering sprawl. Compelled by liberal wealth in Malibu, the protection of that acreage stands in odd contrast to the south end of this metropolis, where a land baron's inheritors have stopped to think--sometimes at legal gunpoint--and tossed portions of their loaf to the starving wild, making it corporate earnings policy without Federal intervention (except that their old ranch happens to house a few species covered by the threatened ESA). Then between the thickening edge of L.A.'s five counties and the tip of San Diego's burgeoning 'burbs, the thumbprint of a Marine Corps base provides evidence of the past. Camp Pendleton is the only chunk of truly undeveloped land outside of the Southland's impossibly craggy national forests. Thank Allah we're at war.
The collective child in our heads
gains exit through our fingertips,
wildly developing an illicit web
of quiet rage.
Wrapped inside such warm cocoons,
we sleep awake,
trapped within this cyber stage
content, alone, "communicating,"
distracted from our age.
And yet the welcoming refrains
create abstract online alliances;
these encounters, so unlikely,
so remote, in any case,
are like the stars we seem to think
we could carve right from the sky:
a thousand light years from our eyes.