Monthly Archives: January 2009

Downtown Los Angeles at night

I suppose this could be the title of a number of posts…

It’s the end of January. The night was cool but not cold, I rolled up the sleeves of my sweatshirt and felt the air sweet against my naked skin. The streets between Mals bar and home are my streets. Along Olive I rode through the darkness, glad I didn’t go home with the car salesman. I turned on Pico, passed the corner where I always used to find Mark, before we lost the Morrison, before he lost his home, before he died.  He’s been on my mind a lot, his county issue wheelchair sits empty at Saje now, right by the back door. I see it and think of him, feel a little of the despair and loss and…I don’t even know what you feel about someone you love who died an alcoholic on the streets. And I passed the Morrison and it’s still boarded up, Hope has never been well lit there. Hope. I don’t want to hope any more, I want to see my way to winning.

I headed towards the convention center, all brightly lit, welcoming people with degrees like mine to network and shmooze and score business deals. It offers shit jobs and shit treatment to all those I work with, stand beside. I belong to neither world, though I look to be part of one, and have chosen to stand in the other. For my job, I became part of the first for a couple of days earlier this year. It made me feel split into two people, uncomfortable in my skin as I walked down carpeted corridors and flashed my badge and talked books. And wished I were chatting to the janitors instead. I felt traitorous. And lonely. I wanted to know someone who understands these things.

Down Figueroa I passed the Staples Center and the new L.A. Live, it is like another city. The other day I was biking down Olympic and suddenly didn’t recognize where I was. I can’t tell you how strange it is to feel that way about a section of street you have worked off and on for 8 years. The Baker Building is gone, all of the families I knew there gone. A skyscraping hotel rises to the left unfinished beneath its giant crane. The cold clean unwelcoming space of LA Live bristles alongside it, over 200 families used to live there in 1998. They tore the buildings down to turn the land into parking lots. And now they have created something that Narnia’s Ice Queen might have built. Though she probably didn’t know enough about surveillance cameras. It’s yet another of LA’s quasi-public spaces, easily controlled for the right kind of people, easily managed with its up-scale chains that represent conspicuous consumption without taste or orginality. Figueroa was crawling with cop cars as the great searchlights proclaimed it the place to be against the night sky. Superficial glitz and implicit violence dominate this city.

I biked through downtown, Orishas on my i-pod, every traffic light against me. Office buildings towered into the sky, their patchwork of lights replacing the stars. The spatial inequalities of this city, the pain and displacement, the contrast between ultimate wealth and ultimate poverty, all of these things carved into my heart. I like biking through the darkness, even though it hurts. It is time and space to think, a way of experiencing LA like no other, a physical release of stress and memory. And it is nice to come home at the end of it. To write.

Good times on Singapore Airlines??

Through drugs I think…I don’t really know what else they can be advertising  with these stylish playing cards:

That or hookers. I can’t tell. Maybe both, it’s possible they are equally good ways to fly! Though drugs are better at making the stars do that spinning thing, and grown men’s beards turn blue. I mean, if he were dressed as a pirate it might make sense, but…well. I shall speculate on what they were thinking, but probably I shall never know. I did enjoy playing cards.

Life with children

I like to experience it from time to time. I had forgotten that there are monsters in every envelope! Cow monsters no less, to escape them you have to race down the hall, jump onto the futon and hide underneath the quilt. You also have to be wearing something on your head, anything will do, a dishtowel, a 3 year old’s winnie the pooh shirt, a very tiny flowered hat. Dishtowels and tiny hats are quite difficult to keep on your head, especially while flinging a quilt over the two of you, but the shirt stays on quite satisfactorily.

It also makes you realize how grand it is to be an adult! You can eat whatever you want whenever you want it. You can go wherever you want. You can reach things on the top shelf. You don’t have to go to bed until you’re good and ready. If you really want to play with toys, legos being my own particular favourite though Didin’s batman action figure is also cool, you just have to find a kid. And then you can talk about politics, life and art in the evening over wine, so life is much more complete.  Life, really, is quite good as an adult. Especially if you’re able to take naps. And so I have some sympathy with temper tantrums and bids for independence, though it appears to me that children are entirely capable of great tyranny, and exercise this capacity, er, tyrannically.

Didin has a number of toys procured in Bangladesh, my favourite so far is the Chinese “My Family Doctor.” On the front of the box it states “Lovely and Fun toys, these are what you want!” also “specification, colours and contents may vary from illustrations.” They were right, many of the pictures on the front of the box bore no relation to the contents. But the back is the winner, it says

Lovely and fun toys
selling well all
over the world
the best welcome
the children
gifts for

Ha! That’s it. Beautiful. Like Goleta in the rain. We walked down to the beach this morning, stood on the low cliffs looking out over the ocean, there were two herons and a line of pelicans skimming the top of the water and my heart expanded to fill the horizon, breathing with the ebb and flow of the incoming tide. It was empty and wild and beautiful.

Obama’s Inauguration

I cried.

I know, it really surprised me too. Cynical and jaded and self-deprecatingly furious, I have little to no faith in this country’s electoral process or government. I have no hope, instead of hoping I work hard to try and make this world a little better, a little more just. I don’t know that I can hope in a man who raised more money from corporations than Bush did, who played the political game so well, who managed to rise to the top of this great corrupt and broken system of ours. I listened to his speech and we’re still at war with terror. And it’s definitely true that there will be no structural change without immense pressure in the streets and in congress, if there’s even a chance of structural change…And I don’t know why Rick Warren was up there at all.

Even so. Aretha Franklin got up and sang and she was radiant and for the first time she wasn’t the token loved pop star up there for diversity…for the first time the mall was full of black people who were happy…for the first time. Ever. March after march, protest after protest, centuries of change grinding along from slavery with racism never really yielding…and I don’t think it has yielded but yesterday meant something. And I cried. Last year in Dublin a reporter asked me if I thought America could ever elect a black president and my answer was no. No way. And America proved me wrong and it was beautiful yesterday when Aretha was singing the way only she can to our black President and his family, and millions of people watching and all of them crying from pure…I don’t even know what the emotion is. Happiness, disbelief that this could even be happening but this amazing knowledge in your stomach that it really is, something deep that comes from years of struggle and pain and injustice and the brilliant unexpected rightness of this family standing there. Taking the place of the Bush family who represent everything that is white dynastic power and corruption in this country. I don’t have words for it, but it was something profound. And I appreciated that Obama mentioned that 60 years ago his family wouldn’t have been served in DC’s restaurants, and most of all I loved Reverend Lowery’s speech, acknowledging that yesterday represented only a beautiful new beginning to the work for the world we are all trying to create:

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen!

REV. LOWERY: Say amen —

AUDIENCE: Amen!”

I’m glad I got to spend the morning with Gilda and Gary, and end the day with drinks and music at Tafarai’s party with so many folks I haven’t seen for a long time…what a day. And of course, now is when the real work begins again…I don’t disagree with any of my friends in their cynacism or fears for the future. But something did change yesterday.

Metropolis

Just saw Metropolis…I’ve been on a bit of a Fritz Lang kick. He wore a monocle after all. I’ve been watching a lot of noir actually, and thought I’d go back to the beginnings and so watched M, and god damn, what an amazing movie. And Peter Lorre was incredible, as was Inspector Lohmann, so I watched The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and loved it too…and so, once again I returned to the beginnings to see more of where Lang began, and, well…the cinematography is great but I have to say  (and in disagreement with a lot of critics I spose) I’m glad he moved on.

Of course I loved the machines. The machines are extraordinary. Apparently in the book they are alive. And they are impressively bizarre. And the new “machine-man” is also cool (though it is patently a machine-woman), along with its creator, Rotwang the mad inventor. Apparently he sacrificed a hand to create his metal creature, I have no idea how that worked. He’s got both crazy eyes and crazy hair, a brilliant tiny medieval looking house in the middle of modernity with his own private entrance to the city’s 2000 year old catacombs…that could lead to so many interesting possibilities. A hint of the satanic in the pentegrams on the walls and doors, the house’s peculiar powers. And Metropolis, the capitalist city-state run by dictatorship with power concentrated in one man due to his control over its technology and structure…it’s an interesting idea. And how much did it influence Blade Runner? all of the workers live deep under the city. The visuals of the city itself are stunning, you see echos of it in future sci fi stuff. So what in this, I ask, is not to love?

And of course this was a groundbreaking film, the cinematography already shows some of the brilliance in M, scenes cutting back and forth linked one to the other by doors, by actions, by objects. The scene where Rotwang is chasing Maria with the lamp is genious, even if she’s rubbish at actually making any attempt to save herself. The water of the flood as it first comes down, the beating of the gong in time to the music…so many individual scenes. The music is great, I forgot to say that it’s a silent movie I think, filmed in 1928, and I loved how the dialogue screens are dynamic as the movie is dynamic, a part of its ebb and flow.

It’s ridiculously overacted by today’s standards of course, and with the heavy makeup. The cinematography is almost enough to make up for that, but the story itself, I’m afraid, is rather ridiculous, apart from the politics that turn my stomach. Thea von Harbou and I would not have got along, and I blame her for everything I didn’t like about M as well because now I understand her crazy ideas better. It looked at first that it was going to be a sort of gothic all power to the workers tale, and that would have been quite all right. But turns out it’s a rather bizarre mix of Christianity, a man who is in search of the virgin Mary and his mother combined in one perfect woman, and at best “compassionate conservatism,” but I’m not at all surprised that Thea and the Nazis rubbed along really well.

It pissed me off so much I’m writing this in fact…the machine woman is given Maria’s face, becomes an erotic dancer, embraces what a woman is beyond the virgin and the mother and of course it’s all death and destruction after that! Though the vision of what was once erotic dancing is rather amusing, and astonishingly racy. And then dressed as the virgin she riles up the masses (part of the capitalist plot to have an excuse to use force to repress the workers because we all know praying is the way, the marseilleise is in the background), and leads them all in a howling mob to destroy the heart of the machine. Though they know it will flood the worker’s city below, they forget the flooding will drown all of the children they’ve just abandoned. They’re not so bright, but don’t worry, Feder and the real Maria (well, Maria’s actually pretty soft and useless and tends to slow things down as a good woman should) save the kids and the day. While the workers dance joyfully in circles, freak out when they realize their kids are probably dead, and then in vengeance burn the machine Mary as a witch. I do like her, she laughs maniacally as she burns. But back to the maker’s moral, it is incredibly clear why the workers are the hands, and the capitalist is the head…so in this natural order of things we just need a little improvement for the workers as their conditions are a bit grim and they deserve something a bit better…what can bring them together? The moral of all this is that a mediator is needed, the heart. He descends from the upper levels, works one ten-hour shift in the factory, and then fixes everything. Makes me want to spit.

And I can’t even begin to describe some of the corniness of some of the dialogue and action. And why is the thin man not thin? That bothered me, it could have been sarcasm had he been fat, but instead he was just mildly goonish. And what is the significance of worker 11811?

The alternate title could have been run, Feder, run.

Arizona Ghost Towns

Life seems such an unlikely combination of luck and choice and circumstance…I think it hits me most when facing choices that will send my life down vastly different trajectories. Or is even that assuming too much? It’s interesting to think of life curling back to an original line no matter which direction you go, or this moment as a hub from which extend multiple lines into the future like rays from the sun. In geologic time, I suppose life looks like a tiny pin prick, with no trajectory whatsoever. Or it could be one circle or a series of them or a combination of metaphysical loops and linear time…I like to imagine it as a spyrograph drawing but that doesn’t really mean anything metaphorically without a great deal of mental stretching. And choice itself is something of a luxury…

What if I had been born here?

Gleeson, a mining town that is almost dead, population down from 2,500 to 100, and people leaving via the cemetery. It sits to the west of a town full of adobe ruins and shattered timbers, only a few miles from Tombstone (that has survived only by becoming its own spectacle, a real town turned into Hollywood set complete with fake gunmen in long black coats and tours by stagecoach). Gleeson is only one of so many towns built upon the mineral riches of southwest hills. And I know the myths, the level of violence. I also know Nana and Tata, the parents of my old soccer coach from Dos Cabezas, and they are beautiful people. On Nana’s wedding day she was sitting on the porch with her suegra and when they saw some rabbits, she got the rifle from inside and shot one dead for dinner. I’ve driven past there, and always wondered which of the foundations and shattered walls belonged to them…I know Frank  born and raised in Tombstone, he’s beautiful too, and his dry sense of humor is made up of puns and spanglish wordplay and he tells truly terrible jokes that I love. It’s why in spite of my love of noir, I’ve never liked authors like Camilo Jose Cela where there is nothing to redeem these dusty violent towns. And much as I love Sergio Leone’s westerns, still, I wish they showed some of the warmth and humor that allowed people to survive in these places.

Gleeson still has those 100 people. But there are far more in the cemetary. Most of the graves are unmarked, it appears almost empty from the road, but when you get closer you can see the remnants of plastic flowers, the splinters of broken crosses, crumbled headstones. The grass here is full of such things, hidden from view.

Maximo Rueda, died 1927, who was he and what was his life like? I know it is too far away for me to even imagine properly, though it does not stop me from trying.

Ed Ramirez, who died in 2000 yet his grave appears almost as old as the others, though with flowers remaining intact. Some graves have iron railings to rescue them from being swallowed by time, but even so, most of the names have long gone. For those that remain, you can see the families buried in groups, World War Two veterans, the Mexicans in one area and the whites in another, attempts by family members to rescue the graves of their loved ones from obscurity. One almost fresh grave.

I wonder if they are people who never left, or people who only returned to be buried?

The whole place was eerily silent, broken only by the wind over dry grass and the occasional clear sounding of two different bells, almost like windchimes, too musical to belong to livestock. I didn’t find the grave they belonged to. I’m not usually spooked by graveyards, and the hot sun and blue skies kept fear at bay, but images like this send chills

as I walked across the graves of the unknown to rescue some from total obscurity, to search for signs that they were there at all, to take pictures of their forlorn brokenness, I hope I did not simply take advantage of the picturesque. Seems like you owe something, even to those who are dead.

Gleeson is the third stop on the back roads between Wilcox and Tombstone, the first is Pearse. I read that it had a reputation worse than Tombstone back in the day, but find that hard to believe, especially of a town so tiny. Tombstone is a metropolis by comparison, though perhaps more foundations lie lost to view in the grass along the road. There are two buildings still standing. One belongs to the only residents of the town, though this was the only living thing to greet us

Some kind of miniature donkey? he was as musical as his larger cousins. And there is a beautiful old general store of adobe with a painted metal facade, if you arrange a tour in advance, and pay for it, you can go inside. But we hadn’t…

From Pearse you drive down through hills filled with the multicolored landslides of mine tailings. They are more than familiar to me from my youth, my family spent so much time going over them looking for cool rocks, bits of azurite, turquoise, silver, copper, gold, molybdenum. There was one only a couple of miles from my old home, we’d hike there and eat lunch in the cool shadows of the mine tunnel, which ended in a deep pit twenty or thirty feet back.

Down the road is Courtland, of which I know nothing but the name. There are clear signs that mining is about to begin again, but apart from recently graded roads and white survey flags, nothing is there but more scattered remnants of abandoned buildings and bored youth

Though shooting up street signs, generally while drinking and driving, is to my certain knowledge, not at all restricted to youth. One of my old coworkers used to enjoy such a pass-time. He was my old assistant manager too.

It was a stunning day all round, even before we arrived in Tombstone and Bisbee. The country is extraordinarily stark and reluctant to support human life, but also extraordinarily beautiful. Here is the recently graded road leading into the back streets of Tombstone