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SIlverlake Ramble #3
February 12, 2015
Me thinketh it accordant to resoun,
To telle yew al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me
I don’t walk as often in summer as in other seasons because of the heat, which just now, late in July, seems to be settling in. But when I do, I take note of familiar touchstones on Maltman, what has changed or disappeared, what remains the same. El Conejito still here, and he and I are better friends (his name is Alberto) since he and his “boys” have been making repairs to my leaking laundry room. Who are these boys? Undocumented immigrants, perhaps, to whom he lends support of various kinds. Father, mentor, lover? He calls the elaborate creations in his front yard his “therapy,” and I have spied him, satyr in the midst of baubles, as still as one of his mannequins. Is he deep in thought, or can he make his mind a blank? He has told me that Ernst, who died nearly 19 years ago, is still in the painting in my guest bedroom, a painting banished until now because I couldn’t bear to look at it, purchased as it was on one of our last trips together, nothing in it but highly stylized greenery and an empty park bench in the Alameda Park.
The Cubano still here, though I’ve seen him only once lately at Gelson’s where he told me in a rush that his mother who lived with him has died, 100 years old and in perfect health. No news of his children, or the tremendous success of his trade in Latin beauty products, or, as usual, any questions put to me. His two houses, side by side, are no longer identical after a plaster and paint job on the one he spends most of his time in. I find this upgrade unfortunate, an aesthetic mistake. The death of his mother seems to have aged him, though he is still dapper in black with gold chains.
Marilyn gads about, I don’t know where. No dog, no cat. Packages pile up on her porch. Her car sits covered behind the gate, her laboriously planted grass turns brown. I hope it’s a trip and not illness that keeps her away. I’ve already given up thinking we might become friends, never invited her up for a drink or to a party, always inventing reasons not to call. I don’t understand this myself, or what has happened to the homeless men who camped for many months at the bottom of the hill, or who lives now in the foreclosed house, subdivided, refurbished, rented out, or why the upscale mini-mart on the corner, face to face with the 99 Cent Store across the street, gets away with its outrageous prices, though the beauty shop it replaced could not. I suspect this Neighborhood Market had a hand in “evicting” the unpalatable homeless men on its doorstep, just as I no doubt will succumb in the end to Yummy.com with its tempting offer of delivery service.
Street Joy. I see God. I see God. Arrows on the pavement pointing in opposite directions. I am bound to see Him. And Modern Art Is A Hoax. Mothers, tell your children to thrash tonight. This last a leftover from Halloween. I read the street signs, free expression, exuberant or cynical, and some are ads, names of bands. Silver Lake changes, Silver Lake remains the same. I turn the corner to traverse the Plage, home to bi-weekly farmers markets where I have lately missed the peach lady, compensating with fresh fish, heirloom tomatoes, and apricots closely related to a tree. The Plage is more successful than ever, populated hour after hour with all sorts. I could set myself up here with my laptop, nurse my coffee among them. I should get out more, I tell myself, abandon lists, never-to-be-completed household chores and projects. Be seen. Distribute a card: SILVER LAKE WRITER. But just as I never call Marilyn, I never do any of these things. Better to imitate El Conejito, drink my own coffee, meditate in my own garden, cultivate silence. Will I go to Pine and Crane, formerly the raw/vegan restaurant, where I’ve been told the food is scrumptious? Maybe for take-out. I pretend not to see auto mechanic Enrique pretending not to see me and pass on.
Griffith Park Boulevard (GPB) is a main artery between Sunset and Los Feliz (typical L.A. ungrammatical Spanish, pronounced Loss Feeliss) which runs south to Korea town, east to Atwater and Glendale. It doesn’t look like much to write about. Less expensive, home to a relatively new population of African Americans. Discreet No Cruising signs. A mix of old style apartment houses, newer low rise condos among mostly small, older, private houses in various styles and muted or faded colors, some better kept than others, backyards hidden, splash of an unseen fountain, blue and white agapanthus, glorious morning glories trailing over fences…
Months ago all that, the above, and it’s winter now though you would never know it, 80 degrees today and climbing. The weather in Los Angeles circles back upon itself, confuses birds and flowers, causes uproar in our closets as we try to imagine that it will be cool this evening though boiling now. No sweet showers for us. We live in a desert, cracked and drought-ridden. Succulents flourish. Cactus plants shoot forth their unexpectedly lurid blossoms.
Witness two guys on a stoop, each on his phone, two dachshunds, two fedoras, a portrait full of information, part of The Family of Man. I say “hi” to the girl with the beautiful dog, a husky, black markings, pale blue eyes, and everyone tells her what a beautiful dog she has, if it is in fact her dog, with never a word for her own person. Car washers, dog walkers, who’s walking whom I sometimes wonder, it’s a whole new world, a career. I could be making money, one of the regulars tells me, and another asks, “What happened to your dog?” What dog? I don’t have a dog. “No, no, no.” He insists he has seen me with a dog. He knows I have a dog, refuses to desist, even when I tell him I’m a cat person. He obligingly makes room for me and the phantom, as we dodge leaf-blowers and spread upon spread of Saturday morning garage sales. OPJ: Other People’s Junk, one of Leo’s acronyms, so apt. And here’s the apartment house designed by one of California’s modernists, Schindler or Neutra, where another architect, Gregory Ain, spent some of his last years, as I happen to know because his ex-wife was a friend of mine. The building is shabby and discolored now, but still striking with its set of parallel geometric projections, Assyrian inspired cutouts.To ramble is to encounter such stuff, past voices and faces -- the missing in action, the brave bald woman I no longer meet, the man who always bent to help his wife out of the car in front of their grand corner house, demolished since I was last here -- city history intruding on or blending in with what’s happening now. Across the street, people emerge from a building hidden by a high wooden fence. Smoking, drinking coffee, lazy in the sunshine. Someone leaves, someone else goes back inside. What goes on here? What is this place? For months I ponder, until a sign goes up: AT CENTER which I discover online is a Meeting Place for GLBT 12 Step Recovery.
But the Asian women, now. How to describe? GPB, though flat, drops off steeply on this side of the street. They come up rickety wooden staircases from scattered houses down below, some connected by bridges and pathways, gardens too, lettuce and flowers creep up the hillside. When I risk this sunnier side of the street because I am cold, that’s when I see them. Definitely more than one, though never together. Older women with straight backs, lined blank faces direct from the movie Lost Horizon. You may have seen it and be able to picture these women, exiled from Shangri-La, who never incline their heads, who are gray and speechless, whose clothes hang loose on their bodies. I can make nothing of them. They are the living dead.
Back on the shady side, it’s a relief almost to be shouted at by the crazy Filipina. What does she recognize? What is it about me? “Hello,” she waves. In a frenzy of excitement, she whoops, she leaps about. OK, OK. I give in. “Good morning, hello,” and that’s it, she stops. The architect with her spiky hair and pocket dog, the saintly woman who takes care of her grandchild during the week, strolling the blond baby up and down, when she could be pursuing her own ends where she properly lives, miles from here, at Leisure World in Laguna Beach. I make up a life for this woman’s daughter. Divorced, I imagine, can’t afford daycare or a nanny, so her mother steps in. A much older woman I see infrequently asks me about postage. Her brown stockings droop, her accent is faintly British. I’m a little put off, eager to be gone, when, as her letter slips away, she launches suddenly into a tale of earlier days when her husband was alive, when they used to hike in the true wilderness of Griffith Park towards which this boulevard is wending. They carried picnics in their rucksacks, poked along with alpenstocks, made a day of it.
This is where I turn around and do some arm exercises, and there are days when I don’t look for it, don’t see or think of it. Many days. Though I know how it will seem. As though my walk were a pilgrimage, my goal to see a certain small house set behind a larger one and to remember making love on a mattress on the floor where Ernst had set up housekeeping with a plate and a bowl and some stainless steel and two flea-bitten cats some other girlfriend had given him. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know what became of those cats.
Stars watch over us down here in Silver Lake. At the Griffith Park Observatory, its golden dome in full view to my right on the way home, we can look through a telescope or at a show of light and sound which clears the mists of smog away. Or, we can look up at the Hollywood Sign, also in full view and lately the cause of discord in Beachwood, a community to the west of here, but which in Silver Lake retains its glow. Somewhere, not far, stars are fasting, purging and cleansing, eating vegan, eating paleo, drunk driving, practicing Scientology, making deals, tweeting selfies, trashing screenplays, getting pregnant, shooting up, refusing vaccinations, adopting African babies, getting divorced, drying out. And here, right here on GPB, is a photography studio spilling out of a one-car garage advertising HEADSHOTS.