Friday, January 25, 2008

You Can Go Home Again IF You Can Find It

On your birth certificate there is an address listed for your parents, an address on Fourteenth Street in Santa Monica. You were surely brought there from the hospital where you gained entry into this remarkable and scary planet, but your only memories of it have to do with your mother talking about "the house on Fourteenth Street" and your sister recounting tales of attending the school some few blocks away.

In recent years, you park in front of the house, watching it, as though it could give you some clue to your process if not your identity. They--your parents--carried you down that walkway, entered through that very door with you, brought you there for the first time. As you grew, stories were extended, stories in which your mother and one of two or three maids transferred you into a car along with a collapsible pram, then drove you to the Palisades above the beach, where you were walked. You have no memory of that, only second-hand source material. The house on Fourteenth Street and the rides along the Palisades were before your memory kicked into gear. You look at the house speculatively, daring it to reveal something of itself to you or, indeed, something of you to you.

There were times in more recent years when you ran from the Santa Monica Canyon/Chautaqua area to the Palisades, all the way to the terminus at Colorado. You did this perhaps a few hundred times and gradually there came a memory of having been taken to a building on the Palisades, The Camera Obscura, where as a boy you were able to watch the magic of imagery being projected on a large, circular platform, bringing in the streets and bustle of downtown Santa Monica and on one occasion you were able to see the image of your father, heading toward Second and Broadway in order, as he later explained to you, to make a guess about the relative speed of a horse, the guess backed up with money left in an escrow account, he explained, at Grecco's Barbershop.

The beginnings of memory.

The memories expanded when your parents moved inland to Burbank. There, in a Mediterranean house on Providencia Street, more memories came, memories that were verified by your parents and sister, memories of neighbors named Brown, dog named Silver, other neighbors who had the most bizarre things you had yet seen, two baby alligators which were kept in the wash basin in the laundry room.

In recent years, you sat in front of that house, waiting for it to whisper secrets. You knew that one of the bathrooms had yellow and black tiles, that the door to the bathroom had a pane of corrugated glass that matched the door on the shower stall. You knew about a waffle iron with an ornate image of a peacock on its enameled lid. Memories, albeit scattered ones.

From Providencia Street in Burbank, your family moved to significantly more modest circumstances at 6145 1/2 Orange Street in the Wilshire-Fairfax district, more west than most parts of the city. Your memory came into significant play there; you can recall secret hiding places in and about the neighborhood, the then equivalent of a skate board which was a two-by-four with a wooden fruit box nailed vertical as a kind of wind shield and trunk compartment, a portion of a broom handle nailed across the top as a handlebar, a discarded roller skate, unscrewed into two parts being the wheels. Somewhere you;d secured benough black paint to affix a crude skull and the even more crudely lettered name, War Hawk. You remember times you were bidden to take War Hawk down to the market at the corner of Sixth and Fairfax for some forgotten item which was necessary for the evening meal. You remember games with your sister, climbing a tree in front of 6145 1/2, you remember crudely assembled crystal radios which brought in KFAC, a classical music station, and thus, with ear phones, you could listen to music when you were supposed to be sleeping. You could remember your sister promising not to rat you out provided you agreed to do the dinner dishes, you could remember the patch of garden up toward the cross street where it was possible to get enough sour grass to chew on for minutes at a time.

You could remember the Helms Bakery truck and its jelly donuts which for reasons you never learned were forbidden you and which you nevertheless essayed thanks to your discovery that Earl of Earl's Dry Cleaners on Fairfax was good for one penny per every two respectable wire coat hangers you brought in. You of course recall your mother wondering where all the wire coat hangers in the house had gone.

You remember, and so you returned to see what more 6145 1/2 Orange could tell you about the small, shy boy you were. But it was not there. 6145 1/2 Orange Street no longer exists; it is a part of a large condo complex, one that looks woefully undistinguished, institutional rather than residential.

It can tell you nothing because it is a break in the fabric of your memory. It cannot tell you of your first kiss--Elise Bernstein of the flaming red hair--nor of the chocolate-coated graham crackers six for a nickel at Weiner's market on the corner, nor of Sid Weiner, who made you wash your hands before plunging your arm into the pickle barrel for one of the crunchy new pickles, nor of the Good Humor trucks that plied the neighborhood selling ice cream goodies.

It is a warning that memory is a fabric that can wear out. What used to be Miller's Drug Store at Sixth and Fairfax is now a 99
Cent Store, with no pin-ball machine where you were sent to inform Jake that dinner was ready. "You can't read that," Ruth, the saleslady at Miller's said when she saw me holding Don Quixote. "Why not?" I said. ""Because you don't understand it." "I do, too. It's an adventure." "That's what I mean," she said. "It isn't either." Which became a kind of cause celebre in which we shifted our patronage, such as it was, to the Thrifty Drug on Wilshire and Cochran, or the Sontag Drug at Wilshire and Detroit.

Memory, the thing that makes a place a place, a person a person, an experience an event.

Memory. Our story. Our interpretation. Our version. Our entire self.


Anonymous said...

Though I love being in the passenger seat when you narrate your memories of Los Angeles, I have always believed they were meant to be written down. Thanks for doing this, Lowenkopf. And keep 'em comin'.

R.L. Bourges said...

Yes, please write them down. The sour, the bitter, the sweet, the salty. All good. All beautiful. namaste.