Thursday, September 5, 2013


There are other aspects of love than those relating to things, such as tangible items, say a fountain pen or pocket knife or book, and abstractions such as artistry or humor or curiosity.  There is love for a place.

In not too many years hence, you will have spent half your life living in a place, Santa Barbara, which you can admit to loving, not only because of sudden, heart-breaking aspects of natural beauty, but because of consequences arising from it being, at heart, a small town.  In some ways, gated community ways, it is as much a metaphor as the city of Jerusalem was rendered by Muriel Spark in her novel, The Mandlebaum Gate.

There is a clear love for the city of your birth, Santa Monica, which presents itself to you from time to time when you have the leisure to wander its streets.  At such times, you see landmarks that remind you so much of your father, and the elaborate routines he developed to get himself out of the clothing stores he once owned there, or in more recent years, the locale--now a Chinese restaurant--at 516 Santa Monica Boulevard that was called Boulevard Luggage and which, at certain hours of the day actually was a shop where one could buy luggage or bring in damaged luggage for repair.

At the same time 516 Santa Monica Boulevard was Boulevard Luggage during business hours, it was also a place where serious investigations into the relative speed of thoroughbred horses were argued to the point where the investigators were willing to back their beliefs with money.  Five Sixteen Santa Monica Boulevard was also a place where, in its upper balcony, you conducted a brief series of love affairs with model airplanes, followed by romances with building radios, and then, on a Remington upright typewriter, a gift from Noah Bowers of a pet store, two doors away, a series of short stories intended for such publications as Ranch Romances, Dime Detective, and Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Such were the demographics of the time, along with the entrepreneurial curiosities of your father that the basement of 516 Santa Monica Boulevard became as well as its upstairs functions, a place where those with additional spirit of speculation could participate in a crafty combination of gin rummy and poker called Paiute, while at the other side of the room, a more traditional Asian observation of the sciences of speculation called Pai-Gow could be indulged.

For someone who'd yearned for adventure as a boy, Santa Monica was the equivalent of a constant discovery of treasure maps, and the main branch of the library, a scant two blocks away, drew you as the Sirens drew Odysseus's sailors.

But truest love of all for a place was for Los Angeles, which in aggregate had all the myth, romance, mystery and excitement you could ever want.  Not the least of this mythology came from the worlds of music in Los Angeles, the elegant intonations and song choices of Bobby Short, the thriving individuality of be-bop, a revolutionary way of phrasing melody and causing it to collide in the newly discovered accelerator of harmony; and the plenitude of so-called classical performances, including chamber music at what seemed to you the equivalent of the Emerald City of Oz, the Wilshire Ebell Theater.

In your mid twenties, you were heard to swear that, excepting an occasional trip to San Francisco, what individual of right mind would need any other place than Los Angeles.  Your love was big, tangible, perhaps a bit rowdy, but sincere.  At the time, you still had the occasional recurrence of a dream in which you were separated from Los Angeles, in Miami Beach, Florida, living on the margins of a separation you could not yet articulate.  The wound of separation was still open.

Even when you moved here to Santa Barbara, you traveled to Los Angeles at least once a week, sometimes more often, plunging up and down Highway 1 to teach at the University of Southern California, comparing what you saw and felt there with what you'd traded to, here.
You may well be of Santa Barbara now, but you are irrevocably of Los Angeles, spinning metaphor and simile with her as the basis.  Only a week or so ago, you met another transplant, now here, but of there.  You observed to her that the Santa Barbara of your arrival here in the early 1970s reminded you so much of the Los Angeles of your youth.

Except that there was no Madman Muntz here, nor Earl Scheib $19 automobile paint jobs, much less Clifton's Cafeteria, the Awful Fresh McFarlaine Candy Stores, nor the Curry's Ice Cream parlors with the Mile-High cone.  There was no Garden of Allah here nor Bunker Hill much less a funicular called The Angel's Flight, which conveyed one up Bunker Hill, past a row of apartments where you swore you would some day live.  Nor was there a John Fante to write about such places to the point where you felt you actually had lived there.

Love for things and abstracts sets you off on the beginner's trail to love for a place.  Such love introduces you to kinds of grief and insight you'd never dreamed possible, not even in the tidal nature of love for the abstraction of writing about experiences, your own and of individuals you invent.

With such love for and understanding of places, you are ready for the equivalent of climbing the Himalayas, which is to say love for another person.

Many dear, cherished friends are available to you only in memory.  Among those left, you struggle to keep yourself aware of the gift inherent in each moment together.  In recent weeks, you've brought an adopted cat into the apartment, setting about some connection that will no longer leave you less an animal friend.  Even as you write this, the cat has usurped your customary chair before the computer, a sure sign that some boundaries have been breached and friendship is on the way.

You have brief flirtations with Australian Cattle Dogs from various rescue sites, looking for the sort of chemistry you had for so long with Sally.

From time to time, your thoughts go back to a waitress named Roberta from a saloon in San Francisco called The Hotsy-Totsy, a name which suggests San Francisco, but not Los Angeles.  "I've heard about you,"  Roberta said, after introductions.  "You don't look so hot to me."

An hour or so later, Roberta threw a half-filled highball glass at you in recognition of a kind of chemistry.

Which is the word you both used after she'd thrown the glass.  "Chemistry."

Some time late, she told you she'd never before thrown a cocktail glass at anyone like you before, although she'd certainly thrown her share of glasses.

Of course there is remarkable, Protean love in friendship, and of course if such a thing as romantic love is to endure, with all the potentials for change raging within it, romantic love requires the greatest friendship of all.

Two individuals embarking on romance are in effect writing different plays, each casting the other into a role that, over the arc of time, each strives to understand, appreciate, and not attempt to change.

The key theme here is to find a person who has never thrown a half-filled cocktail glass at anyone like you before.

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