Friday, January 6, 2012

Innocent until proven naive

 The Los Angeles of your youth still exists in some ways.  But it and you have, as Ernest Dowsen put it, “gone with the wind, flung roses, roses riotously with the throng.”  And as Dowsen, in his memorable poem, was faithful to Cynara, in his fashion, you are faithful to the Los Angeles of your youth in your fashion.

What happened to you on a particular early morning in Los Angeles can and does happen to persons anywhere.  You were pleased when it happened to you then.  You remember it as a milestone in the journey you have taken so far.

Soon, perhaps another or so to come, the early morning hours will begin giving way to the beginnings of light.  Days begin this way in southern California, as though a sleep-rumpled person is slowly emerging from dreams of creation and comfort.

At the moment, such light as there is comes from the moon, street lamps, or the occasional night-light in a driveway of the neighborhood in which you are out on a stroll.  On this particular night, your course is through the Carthay Circle area of the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles.

You had, only minutes earlier, passed the Carthay Elementary School, where you began your formal ventures into education.  You were here now, nearly twenty years later, pursuing your informal education, which had begun to matter with an acute sense of despair.  The word “polymath” had not yet passed your way, but you were nevertheless aware of its implications, the difference between the self-educated and the formally educated being more a matter of style and presentation than content and authority.  At the time, you were avid of style, convinced, as only someone fresh from a university can be convinced, of its importance.  As you walked, you were feeling resolute, tempered by the fear of the Unknown that yawned before you.

Most of your friends were in jobs with some foreseeable path of acceleration, or in graduate school.  You’d already had one or two jobs on the outer fringes of television, which had come to hold no interest for you.  Instead, taking your parents’ kind offer, you were in the guest room of their Crescent Heights duplex, about half way through a novel which you were writing in pen and ink on 11” x 14” onionskin paper supplied by your father, who was then in his auctioneer/liquidator phase.

Your work sessions began around for in the afternoon, where you began typing the previous day’s handwritten output on the back of various stationery pages, both the typewriter and stationery also gifts from your father.  At about 6:30, more or less the time you’d finished typing, you’d be called to share dinner with your parents, then back to the desk and onionskin and a fountain pen you’d come to respect for its flexible nib and otherwise undistinguished appearance.

The early morning walks were your way of winding down your working day to the point where you were confident of sleep.  Sufficiently drowsy, you’d sleep until eleven or twelve, then read hungrily through books and magazines purchased at various used book shops in and about Hollywood, including one that would award anyone who browsed for four or more hours with a certificate good for a spaghetti dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant.

As you stroll, you turn onto a street you liked because of its name, McCarthy Vista.  You amused yourself by wondering who McCarthy was and what he might have seen.  The street is residential.  One- and two-story homes are set back of a comfortable expanse of generous, well-mannered lawn.  On the curbside of the sidewalk, there is at least one tree per house, Jacaranda, Brazilian elm, perhaps even acacia or pittisporum.  Your ruminations are interrupted by a blaze of light that seems eager to cling to you, a puppy wanting assurance.  The brightness causes you to blink.

A voice calls from the street.  “That you, Mr. Lowenkopf?”

Oriented to the circumstances, you nod to the black-and-white patrol car of the Los Angeles Police Department.

“Nice morning for a stroll.”  Not a question, rather an authoritative statement of fact.  Then, after a beat or two, “How’s the novel coming?”

You give the two officers a brief progress report.  They bid you a pleasant morning, then drive on.  They’d stopped you some weeks earlier, asking enough questions to determine who you were, where you lived, and why you were out at this early hour.  This was easily the fourth or fifth greeting of recognition.

At the time, you thought nothing of it.  Between then and now, you’d come to pal around with an LAPD homicide cop who had badge number one, who’d brought several serial killers to justice, who’d at one point “busted” you to a restaurant filled with cops by identifying you as a liberal and a fan of the then Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.  You’d not only read all the books written by Joe Wambaugh, you’d had occasions to hang out with him.  You’d had a neighbor at one point who was a cop who had bursts of jealousy of his wife and who, on two occasions, had shot holes in the floor of his apartment.  You have a friend with whom you’d appeared in a literary magazine when that journal had purchased stories from both of you, who has spent most of his adult life as a private detective.

This range of experience has caused you to see police as individuals every bit as notional and driven as writers or artists, edgy, obsessive, caring, cynical, not sure whom to trust.  You doubt that you’d ever be likely to have that long past experience again, which seems now almost too innocent to have been real.  You were reminded of it a few nights ago, when you were out for a stroll and the sudden flash of light fell on your face, and before your eyes could adjust to the abrupt shift in light, you heard a car accelerating before you were able to detect its black-and-white color scheme.  Somehow, in that quick flash of light, you’d been scanned and approved.  You must take care not to let things that seem innocent to you cause you undue suspicion, nor to disavow the potential for innocence in something that gives the appearance of cynicism.

The novel you were working on had any number of hopes attached to it.  When you finished it, you typed it laboriously on what was then the ne plus ultra of manuscript paper, Eaton’s twenty-pound basis weight Corrasible bond.  The manuscript secured the services of a literary agent, but no publisher, and no further contacts from the LAPD.

The agent, perhaps taking your age into consideration, told you that early novels were like early love affairs.

A year later, you’d saved enough money to go to Mexico City, influenced in some measure by a man who’d on a dare leaped into the bullring in Mexico City, becoming what the bullfight fans call an “espontaneo.”  While in Mexico City, you wrote another novel that did not sell and indeed had another love affair.  Some years later, you became close friends with the “espontaneo” and edited several of his books.  You had lunch with him this Tuesday.



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