Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Escape Velocity

  In the waning months of 1974, you moved from the city of your birth, Santa Monica, California, to relocate about ninety-five miles north, to another coastal town that in a number of ways continues to remind you of Santa Monica.

That same year, you began teaching at the University of Southern California, which is located near a neighborhood where you once lived for a brief time.  You made the commute for thirty-four years, during which USC and the neighborhood underwent the kinds of small and epic changes you've come to associate with the entire Los Angeles Basin.  Sometimes, when you'd arrived in Los Angeles, you could almost feel the changes that had begun to take place.  You'd visit the home where you lived with your maternal grandparents, noticing how it had aged, faded, begun to peel.  You saw the high school you'd feared you'd have to attend, and you saw USC, which you feared you'd have to attend.  You had no reason to think you'd teach anywhere, much less USC, thus the beginnings of many ironies when you in fact did teach there.

On most occasions when you traveled to Los Angeles, you drove through the city of your birth.  Today was no exception.  You were scant blocks from the place you lived in 1974, close to the site at Fifth and Santa Monica Boulevard where your father had a store, passed locales where, in earlier times, he and your maternal grandfather had several stores, and were within blocks of 611 Fourteenth Street, whence you were taken having been born at the then Santa Monica Hospital at Fifteenth and Wilshire.

You passed the coffee shop near Fifth and Lincoln where, at one time, you went with some regularity to have eggs Benedict.  Of course it has long since ceased being a restaurant and is not the setting for a family dentistry practice.  You in a larger sense passed ghosts of your former self, your parents, and their friends.

In that same sense, every time you are in El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula, you see ghosts of yourself, friends, ambitions, experiments, and learning curves.  You see a place you were convinced you would never leave.  Even with its massive changes and architectural equivalents of face peelings, you have a sense of direction and history you've not experienced in any other larger city such as Mexico, D.F., London, or New York.

Driving north on Pacific Coast Highway to Topanga Canyon, then over that old familiar road, you saw ghosts of other Los Angeles Canyons, notably Laurel, Coldwater, and Beverly Glen.  You saw wide reaches from the heights, and small, intimate alleyways from the lower portions.  You were amazed, as you always are when driving in any portion of the sprawl that is LA how familiar everything seems, how the curves of the canyons are graded, how the houses are cantilevered on the hillsides.

At the topmost point of Topanga Canyon, a mile or two south of Mulholland Drive, at almost the exact spot where, several years earlier, you found your lost dog, Edward, waiting for you one Christmas morning, as though he'd known you'd come for him there, you realized that often in your dreams, you are driving through portions of LA in all its moods and surreal presence.

You have some kind of understanding with the Los Angeles Basin, which is an enormous landscape containing parts of heaven, hell, purgatory, gated communities and long, leisurely strips of tall palm trees, seeming to sway slightly in the wind, reminding you of lion's tales.  You drove down a shaded lane in which crepe myrtle had strewn their wondrous mauve foliage.  Then there were vestiges of jacaranda in bloom along bricked center dividers in streets that ambled like congenial drunks along late afternoon shadows and old stage coach stops.

In its way, Los Angeles is like a large, sheet cake, its design and shape a collaboration of exuberant, bright kids wanting to try something new.  Cut a slice and take it with you.  Cut another slice and take it home to someone you love, or hand it to a stranger whom you hope to love.

Driving through Los Angeles is like a double shot of espresso with that special espresso cream from being made so perfect.  You drive through places such as Woodland Hills and Calabassas to reach 101 northbound, watching people driving Porsches flipping off drivers in lesser cars, women in Lexus and Cadillacs waving rolled Yoga mats in greeting, and hip, blond teenagers shouting Namaste and making tents with their hands.  Commuters are texting, talking on cell phones, making gestures of benediction to the Deer Crossing signs.

You need a special escape velocity to get out of Los Angeles, and by the time you're over the county line into Ventura County, moving to such outposts as Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, you understand that you carry some of Los Angeles with you, fairy dust, karma dust, perhaps a touch of cardamom or coriander on your sleeve.

Stopping at the Marie Callender restaurant off Las Posas to get a large, generous cornbread round, seems a gesture of grounding yourself back in reality, but you know LA is still with you.  It doesn't go away.  

Later, you will realize how much energy being in LA has required of you.  When you sleep, you'll dream Los Angeles dreams, see Los Angeles stucco and glass and bold, fanciful graffiti that waves to you, beckons you back into the laser-like shimmer of a reality that follows you as long as there are motes of the fairy dust and karma dust and cardamom or coriander on your sleeve.

Fuck you.  Namaste.  Watch those chakras.  Fasten your seat belts and return your chairs to an upright position for landing in the rest of the world.

You'll be back.  It's there, waiting for you.

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