Monday, September 8, 2014

Edens and the Returns Thereunto

Last night, your dreams took you back to a place you have driven past from time to time but have not set actual foot upon in well over fifty years.  

Four hundred nine South Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, is the site of Hancock Park Elementary School.  Even at the time, you knew it was a comforting place, its many challenges not so much aimed at you, rather presented as obstacles to be overcome through study, observation, and some kind of operating plan.

You attended Hancock Park Elementary School from grades one through three, where on a daily basis, you were methodically trounced at tether ball by a girl named Georgia, whom you recall at this distant retrospect as a honey blond, Dutch cut, who towered over you.  At the time, most persons you had any contact with towered over you.  On almost a daily basis, you used one stratagem or another to get a sixth grader, a playground monitor named Norman Fordis, to inspect some construction or other you'd concocted in the sand box.

Norman Fordis seemed even taller than Georgia.  Difficult at this remove to tell if your impression  of him as skeletal with deep-set eyes came from the fact of your encounter with him years later, also on Fairfax Avenue, when you strolled into a butcher shop on an errand for your mother.  

When sixth-grader and playground monitor Norman Fordis approached your sandbox construction, you felt a tinge of excitement you now realize is the kind of braided surge of curiosity and satisfaction you experience when you've completed a project and are now waiting to see what the rest of the world thinks about it, or does not deign to think of it at all.

"No foundation," Norman Fordis often said with the gravitas and certainty of a sixth grader and playground monitor.  You had some thoughts about gravitas at the time, the word and some of its implications a gift from your father.  "With your kind of mischief,"  your father said, "an occasional show of gravitas convinces people you're listening and learning.  Too much gravitas is not good for a boy, but some,"  he said, "some is useful."

"No foundation,"  Norman Fordis said.  "Things need foundations.  You can't go around, building things without foundations."

The last time you saw Norman Fordis, he was a butcher at a Kosher butcher ship, his own foundation apparent to you because of the lettering on the outer windows, Fordis and Son, Kosher Meats.  You were at least as tall as he was then, perhaps taller.  Such is the nature of sixth graders who are playground monitors, he did not recall you, but when you told him about his advice about foundations, he nodded while he handed you a wrapped package of short ribs.  "It was good advice,"  he said.

Georgia and Norman remain in portions of your memory relating to actual influences.  Yet another individual from that time and place plays a role, Ruth Angelo, the Principal, who made it clear to you that you had access to any of the books in her library, and once, when she saw you noting the presence of a title with Walt Disney characters among her books, she said that one was available for borrowing as well.  "Always be able,"  she said, "to identify the frivolous and your need for it."

You were to have reported to Mrs. Wallace's class for your introduction to the fourth grade, an exciting prospect because Mrs. Wallace's class was known to have a bee hive with two glass sides, allowing the inner activities of the hive to be seen.  But for you, this was not to be.  Fourth grade for you was to be spent in a dismal school in the dismal neighborhood of a dismal small town in New Jersey, where nothing was, nor ever would be the same.

A teacher at the John Howland Elementary School on Elmgrove Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island, was quick to note the effects of your life at Hancock Park Elementary School, and for the longest time, your comfort with schools--you were not quite ready for faith in them--returned.

Your dream about Hancock Park Elementary School seemed to have the equivalent of English subtitles because your movement from event to event came with explanations of  the significance, embedded within your awareness over all these years.

Each time you embark on a new story, whether it is only a brief exercise or a sense of connection with something yet more grand, you are influenced by Georgia, who never once asked you why you continued to accept the daily humiliation of being beaten.  You are influenced by Norman Fordis, who has you asking of yourself and your students and clients about the stability of the foundation.  And you are in continual thrall to Ruth Angelo for encouraging your investigation of frivolity, which you put in constant comparison with gravitas.

If indeed story is a replication of the expulsion from Eden, a metaphor to include the necessary ventures into the larger, outer world, Hancock Park Elementary School was a pleasant place to experience Eden.  Somehow the gravel of the play yard was less abrasive on your young knees.  The water from the drinking fountains was sweeter, the books in Miss Angelo's library more extensive, the sense of forthcoming adventure more vibrant with the harmony of imagination.

Some years back, you spent a day revisiting another such Eden, the sad time of scattering your sister's ashes at selected spots on the UCLA campus.  You'd excused yourself for a sentimental journey to the student union building, thinking to stand outside your old office, which housed the campus humor magazine.  An intriguing sign captured your attention, the student daily newspaper, The Daily Bruin.  

You followed the signs and arrows, the past rushing back to welcome you.  So did two pleasant young men, impressive combinations of gravitas, but as well up on frivolity.  They asked if they could help you.

When you said, "I used to work here," an immediate bond was formed.  They saw their future selves, returning to one of the Edens they would have made for themselves.


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