Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sascha, Mischa, Gus

 In these summer months, when there is still some semblance of light until nearly nine, your evening walk has a good potential for reminding you of two projects you began back in the early days when you first came by a digital camera.

You began photographing the sidewalk logos of the pavers who, over the years, have paved the sidewalks of your present city and such cities as you'd been visiting.  Of all these sidewalk signatures, your favorite is not far from the sidewalk on Sola Street, directly adjacent the driveway that leads northward to your modest studio.  The contractor's name was Pike.  Here is his logo:

If you can believe the inscription above it, the impression was placed in 1903, which makes it one hundred twenty years old.  You've found a few other of his signatures here and there's a W.W. Bradbury, a J. Wiley, and an Ira Hodson, as well as a Bonilla and a Jonathan Edwards, and, of course, Sam Hunter, the new kid on the block, as it were, a mere eighty-five.



Looking down as you walk has, accordingly, provided some rewards, leading you to yet another "project," which is photographing flowers that persist in the cracks, interstices, and designs of sidewalks.  You come from a flower culture where there are roses, camellias, snapdragons, your favored Gerberas (or African Daises), gladioli, bachelor buttons, stock, Agapanthus, and another favored flower, the Dutch or Japanese iris.  In this same culture, the definition for any flower or "blooming thing" you hadn't planned on is "weed."

These persistent sidewalk blooms often seem to you to be yellow, with spiky-but-not-thorny stems, and serrate leaves.  How they got to where they are and how they survived to bloom is a part of the beautiful mystery of their existence.  You regard them as family, determined survivors.  As such, they take on a special kind of beauty that touches you on some instinctive level, as though they were family, however distant the relationship.  They often cause you to recall distant cousins, presented to you when your family was in its traveling mode that wrenched you from the Santa Monica and Los Angeles of your birth to the strange exotica of the East, the Northeast, and to that strangest, most exotic place of all, Miami Beach, Florida.

You were presented with Marshalls, Murrays, Estelle's, Roses, Joyces, a Ronald, a Charles, a Phillip, and a Max, their exact placement in the Bayeux Tapestry of your family mere hints.  Esther's son from her first marriage.  Mary's oldest boy.  Your grandmother's oldest sister's third daughter's son from that schlemozzle Ernest, before she married Uncle Izzy.  There was even a cousin with the same name as you, but for different reasons, which you were never able to determine.

With a few exceptions, notably a Murray, who was experiencing a painful separation from his wife, coming to California to think things over and, apparently to make it clear to you that there was no future for you in ping pong, you never saw these relatives again, but continued to feel more firmly rooted at having seen them with your own eyes, having them a step or two beyond their lore and legend as expressed by your parents.

Sidewalk flowers are small, strong, and resilient, like the best and worst  of memories and fantasies.  They seem to you like family for this reason alone, but also because surviving in unexpected places is a part of your racial heritage, your cultural heritage and, you like to think, your intellectual heritage, such as that may be.

How easy it is, on your walks in the balmy summer evenings, or sometimes when winter rains force your head downward, to see and rejoice at the mere existence of these flowers.  How easy then to identify with them, to hope for a story or a novel that will find a perch and cling to it for a time with its play of event and its way of coping with survival.

You are not a gardener or you might try transplanting, forging your own patch of survivors in the copious pots and bowls within your patio.  You barely manage your two pots of succulents, and the cymbidium that has stayed with you through three blooming cycles, exhibiting a kind of loyalty you did not know to expect from plants.  You are having a mild form of success with the pits of three avocados, even to the point of giving them names, Sascha, Mischa, and Gus, which, if spoken rapidly and with emphasis, sounds quite like a Yiddish expression meaning "Such craziness," or "Such madness."

On the other hand, you do admire tenacity.  A more respectful term for sidewalk flowers is "volunteer," meaning the flower or plant was not placed by a human, except by accident.  Seeds are often borne on the winds and breezes of whim, transported in the bellies of animals who later leave them with sufficient fertilizer to give them a start.  Seeds are perhaps moved along by sudden appearances of puddles after rain storms.  A number of men and women still wear trousers with cuffs, which can transport seeds, and so can the tread-like soles of the hiking shoes you wear for your evening outings.

There is comfort in comparing the volunteer aspects of plants and flowers to the ideas that transport through the air and thought, later to take root in some fragment of story, that sends forth a tentative root somewhere before beginning to take hold. 

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