Thursday, July 28, 2005

this world over

tuesday night at twilight i escaped the ivory tower for a while to take a walk down wilshire. i thought i was going to the office depot next to the sav-on that has closed, but it turned out that the office depot had closed too. oh, well. i needed the exercise, anyway.

it was cooler than it had been in a few days. i was glad i wore my sweater. i smelled the tar smell that always bubbles out of the maintenance holes and sometimes just from cracks in the sidewalk along wilshire. (it's kind of a gross smell, but i like it b/c it reminds me of my childhood.) during the day, this part of the miracle mile is loaded with people -- mostly office workers from the various media companies and other entertainment corporations headquartered in that sprawling complex at curson and other places. small gangs of people wearing business attire and electronic passkeys on lanyards around their necks, clogging up the lunchtime eateries and enjoying the nice weather under umbrellas on the patios.

i still marvel at all the activity. back when the dearly departed l.a. reader had its offices on wilshire (next to the now-closed office depot to which i was fruitlessly trekking) -- from maybe 1989? to 1996 -- the miracle mile was more or less a wasteland. at least when we first moved in. when the media companies started moving in, i remember my boss getting excited about that b/c he had predicted that wilshire would become a thriving location. and, indeed, nowadays, the miracle mile is teeming with bizniz. but after normal hours, the worker bees go home, and a subtle transformation takes place. you start to notice the dumpier elements of the street, all the little flaws that don't seem so obvious in the bright sunlight and amidst all the well-dressed folks.

a homeless man rolled his shopping cart west along the same sidewalk i followed east. i had stopped to check out the wild patterns made by the foliage planted in front of the giant curson complex -- a riot of green, burgundy, pink, and yellow in endless variations. i wished i knew what the plants were called. but i scurried off as mr. homeless approached. i'm not really afraid of homeless people, but when they talk to me -- as they inevitably do -- i always get self-conscious. i suppose in part b/c i am aware of my "privilege" and their lack of same. i can't help feeling sorry for them, and it makes me sad that some people are reduced to this scrabbling, desperate state. they might ask for money, and sometimes i will give it, but sometimes not. i feel guilty when i don't, but sometimes i just don't have a spare buck. usually when i feel guilty i then feel pissed off at society or whatever it is that created the situation where homeless people exist and have to depend on the kindness of strangers to get by.

just opposite the bank at hauser was another homeless caravan, two shopping carts covered by tarps or blankets, pushed up against the fence surrounding that big ol' hole that runs the entire block of wilshire b/w hauser and ridgeley ... a hole that has been there since the reader days. i marveled that it was still there, still unchanged. sometimes there would be kids skateboarding in its depths, but this night all was quiet. it's eerie, a little bit. how come nobody wants to build on that spot? later i reflected that, i guess for a street person a location like that is good for camping. there's not much activity on the street, and no security moving you along. i mean, nobody is going to be paying someone to guard a hole in the ground.

my destination was blocked off by an askew cyclone fence. the outside walls of the ex-drugstore still bore painted signs advertising generic prozac and assuring folks that all insurance plans are honored. the overgrown bushes half-obscuring these signs, and the fence that stood haphazardly upright across the driveway, gave me a weird postapocalyptic feeling, as though i were exploring a long-deserted site on cylon-ravaged caprica, or maybe our own little earth, post global disaster. luckily, the real crisis was no more serious than: office depot's closed too? crap.

i headed down ridgeley to take 8th street back. there's this thing in l.a. where they say that some neighborhoods are "block by block" -- meaning, some blocks are nice/safe, others are not so much, and such contrasts may exist side by side. in the case of ridgeley, the west side of the street b/w wilshire and 8th is a mess: giant bushes of weeds spilling onto the sidewalk and even growing out of the cracks, cast-off furniture, bits of rubble. just a neglected eyesore. but the east side is tidy duplexes painted pretty colors.

just past 8th and hauser i saw a homeless guy who was obviously not all there. he didn't look dangerous, so i just kept walking toward him, rather than crossing the street. he was in stocking feet and too-short khakis. very weatherbeaten and who-knows-what-else-beaten. as i approached him, i just knew he was gonna speak to me. and he said, "can you help a guy out on his birthday?" -- at once sad and surreal. it was almost lynchian, really. i said, "no, sorry," and kept on going. just a little ways past him i saw, on top of a low cinderblock wall, a pair of black slip-on mules. women's shoes, but i still wondered if they were his.

behind the big office complex at curson, i came upon a curving dirt path carved into lush green grass, and a big sign enumerating "park rules." pretty much everything was prohibited: pets, bikes, boomboxes, running about, noisy hobbies, alcohol, etc. etc. the no-fun park. i laughed to myself and thought, "pretty much all you can do here is sit." walked a few more steps, and there sat a man on a bench, enjoying the peacefully bubbling fountain. did i lie? uh-uh.

eighth street kind of rises and curves at some point, and i noticed, while waiting for a light to change, an almost heavenly view of century city to the west, glowing slightly orange with the setting sun. i was standing in a neighborhood of one- to three-story buildings, where everything felt kind of flat, and staring over at this oz-like golden mirage of mid-century office buildings rising in the distance, surrounded by clouds. it looked like a far-off land in a fairy tale. the light changed ... and so did the traffic light. in the deepening dusk i walked along a block full of apartment buildings and condos, passing by fenced-off patios and balconies stacked atop one another, yet there was little noise, hardly a sign of life. the wind that had been strong and chilly on wilshire was suddenly still. there was a silence like the world was waiting for something, that moment after twilight before night really sets in.

i felt like a shadow myself, drifting from the present to the past and back again. thinking about people i have known, and people i have been. so much of the old days are still with me -- i even work with some of the same people now. the times have changed, but don't they always?

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