Monday, December 21, 2015

Starry Things

When you have been away from a place you frequent with some regularity or from a long-range composition, your return brings tentative, hesitant notes to your perception.  These notes have complex roots, odd, whimsical cocktails of nostalgia, misplaced judgments, and occasional bouts of wondering how you'd managed to go so long without noticing a particular detail.

The most extreme example of absence and return is the city of your birth, Santa Monica, which is an outlier of Los Angeles with a direct effect on how you view Los Angeles and your sense of rootedness in a place, your sense of inner voice, reminding you you are of this place, but the place has changed and you have changed.

Your Santa Monica-Los Angeles roots are undershot with irony, a condition you've lived with in comfort for most of your adult life and which you have come to expect in your transactions, whereever you are, in much the same way, without giving the matter too much thought, you've come to expect to see flakes of mica embedded in the sidewalk concrete in places such as Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and your forty-plus years of living in Santa Barbara.

Within those forty-plus years of living in Santa Barbara, and before moving here, you've had frequent-if-not-incessant reasons to drive northward, to San Francisco or the East Bay, with names of Ross, Sausalito, Mill Valley, Palo Alto, and Berkeley as drawing points.  

Each time you pass Pismo Beach, whether to stop there for gasoline, breakfast, dinner, or an actual stay, you recall the Pismo Beach sidewalks as you first encountered them as a self you can visualize but scarcely accept.  You were seven, possibly eight.  Two of your prized possessions were a pair of Gene Autry cap pistols.

Such sidewalks as there were were wooden planks, as the sidewalks in many of the Western movies were plank.  Whether you had the word in your vocabulary or not, your feeling, on seeing those plank sidewalks, was of authenticity.  You recall patting your cap pistols, acknowledging them as housekeys to imagination.

You were born into comfort rather then wealth, have on a number of occasions in your thirties and early forties, sat outside the house to which you were brought as an infant from the Santa Monica Hospital, whence your mother went to bear you, trying to achieve, even in extreme imagination, a sense of the interior of the house and its yard.  You still have photos of the infant you in that yard, but you can recall nothing of it, only those individuals--parents, maternal grandparents, sister, and shadowy maids--with whom you associated.

The best you can do, well after the circumstances of your parents' and grandparents' fortunes melted in the heat of The Great Depression, is recall a time when you stood on the sidewalk in front of 6145 1/2 Orange Street , in what was to become Postal Zone 36, then 90036.  You were trying to capture the sun in the magnifying glass toy from a box of Cracker Jacks.  You'd heard that such an allignment could burn a hole in a piece of paper, which you had in position on the sidewalk.

You were delayed in your verification of a magnifying glass's ability to start a fire; the flecks of mica in the sidewalk concrete caught your attention.  You might have noticed before, but on this day, you recall the excitement of awareness.  You ran to your mother, proclaiming that the sidewalk had "starry things," caught up inside of it.

As your family moved from Santa Monica for cheaper rent and new opportunities, you and your wife moved from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara, for cheaper rent and an opportunity to investigate the universes of scholarly publishing.  You were no sooner established in a ramble of a house in Summerland that had been lazily divided into a duplex, when the irony of your teaching career began, meaning in effect that you would return to Los Angeles at least once a week for the next thirty-four years.

During those years, you were able to see Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and you undergo growth, and to discover things in Santa Barbara that would impress themselves on you as the planked sidewalks in Pismo Beach did and the flecks of mica in the Los Angeles sidewalks did.

During those years, and the years after your teaching appointment ended at USC, you were aware of shifts in gravity, wherein your roots are more in the reality of here than the past of Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

During these past weeks of being flu-ridden, you've not been able to enter that state you've come to associate with being at work, being a part of a long-term project.  Soon, it will be time to look at such projects, aware of the positive effect of giving a completed draft time to settle in, perhaps reveal some of its strengths and weaknesses.

Santa Monica and Los Angeles have been magical places for you all through your life.  At one point, when you lived in Miami Beach, Florida, you had nightmares in which you feared you would never return.  Soon, early next year, you should visit Los Angeles, to see how together you remain and how apart you've grown.

Tomorrow, you will revisit two projects you were unable to work on because of the illness.  You're eager to see if the projects have any wooden plank sidewalks and if there might be a page or two of "starry things," caught up inside of it.

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