25 June, 2018

A baboon in La La Land



I wonder if the fundamental nature of LA changed when the common vernacular switched from Los Angeles to the monosyllabic "LA."

Granted, numerology HAS fallen out of favor... but then again, this is LA, where you can be everything from a sun worshipper to a vampire, a vapid consumerist to a dirty hippy, and everyone somehow manages to share the same sushi bar. This town is the first place I've ever been that doesn't have a general uniform... something that most people wear that identify them as either part of the living and working community or, well, not. In Lexington in the late 90's, the standard masculine uniform was khaki pants and some shade of green shirt. Keep in mind this isn't something that was at all agreed upon; it simply happened of its own accord, as if men working downtown all went and bought up all the tan pleated pants they could. In larger cities like New York and Chicago, people's status is defined by the winter coat they wear. Lots of gray and black wool and classic lines. Some years long coats are fashionable, but the actual color and fabric changes very little.  Even New Orleans, the most intentionally libertine place I've ever lived, had something like a dress code, though I'm unsure of that is the case now.  It's the same in suburban and rural areas, too. And regionally, clothes are just SLIGHTLY different from region to region... little things like the cut of a collar or the weight of the fabric.

Except for LA -- which I want to distinguish ontologically and existentially from the rest of California.

Some places are more bound by geography than others. Louisville, for example, is always defined by the river. It grew out of the river, organic and disparate like the river itself. Denver has the mountains. Other places are not limited by geography in quite the same way. Indianapolis, for example, can plan, build, and erase with only the limitations of budget and imagination to limit them. Indianapolis, for example, has some of the best urban bike lanes I've ever seen... primarily because they can just remake the sidewalk and the road without having to contend with narrow streets winding between historic architecture. They can just demolish and rebuild. Louisville has deep eddies of history to contend with... some of which it deals with very badly, especially if it has anything to do with the history of anything west of 9th Street.  But I digress.

LA is, in some ways, very much like Indianapolis in that it simply has to erase and rebuild. While there are a few shadows of something like history, the fact is that LA has so much culture, so much that has happened here, that the sheer amount of it has erased a common feel of what this town is like. LA can be anything for anybody at anytime. At any given moment, an endless multiverse of LAs exist simultaneously and within the same geographic boundaries. LA is a painting left out in the rain. All the colors melt and go muddy until there is hardly any of one distinct anything left.

This can make it difficult to contend with, especially if you're a history and story junkie like me. Unfair as it is, the LA that exists in my mind is one painted by John Fante, Bukowski, Nathanael West, and Van Halen.  This wasn't the LA I found, exactly. But then again, it was difficult to have what someone might reasonably call the  "LA Experience" when I was either enveloped in MFA Residency work or cloistered in my Culver City (still LA) motel room working on client work. It's not that there weren't social opportunities. There were. But between work needing to be done and the fact that, at 7 months sober, I still don't feel like I can walk into a bar just to say howdy and not ask for a beer and a shot, I found it easier to be a little anti-social.  Or at least, not walk into a bar while in a place -- geographically, ontologically, and existentially -- where all of my anxieties and fears that I used as excuses to drink would be in play and nipping at the back of my brain like a cattle dog.

And it's not that I think LA is devoid of stories. It's just hard to crack the surface without the usual social lubricant. And as much as I enjoyed being in the company of other word junkies, the fact is I don't much trust writers when it comes to embracing an authentic experience of anything. Writers, like alcoholics, are experts at gaming themselves and wrapping themselves in a reality to suit their needs... even if that reality is largely an antagonistic one.  And because LA is truly its own multiverse, created, revised, and deleted with impunity, I have a difficult time feeling anything close to comfortable here. I lumber too large and occupy the space in a bizarre way. I feel permanently awkward here in a way that I don't feel anywhere else.

And yes, I know its in my head. And yes, to a degree perception is reality. But I'm too much the stoic Ohio Valley Boy to ever really accept that all I have to do is blink and shake my head and somehow magically the sensation changes.  Some things just ARE because they are, whether we like them or not.

And geographic cures are bullshit.

I do wonder, though, if numerology isn't at least partially to blame. I wonder if LA would be a different place if it wasn't reduced in the common imagination to LA... and all the odd, shiny stuff that single syllable holds. I wonder if we thought of angels instead of movie stars if somehow, the multiverse would shift and the stories would come into focus.

I'm going to have to come back to find out, though.






04 June, 2018

It's all casual along the dirty, sacred river

Mick Parsons, writing, Louisville, violence
I spied the end of a sex transaction while walking to the coffee shop. As I rounded the corner from my street to the main artery, I saw a young man trying to simultaneously pull up and snap his jeans while walking nonchalantly. He did neither of them very well. The girl he was with was short, blond, and far less concerned about being seen than he was. Then again, her clothes were in place and walking seemed far less of an issue.
The young man noticed me and tried even harder to look like nothing was happening... at one point, even trying to put his arm around the girl, who, to her credit, could have cared less about the appearance of things. They continued to walk together, but it was hard to imagine them being a couple. He was very tall and dressed like an extra from a late-90's gang movie. She was very short by comparison.
And except for his failed attempt to look like she hadn't just serviced him near a busy street corner in between acts of the torrential downpour, I probably wouldn't have noticed were it not for the fact that, at a distance, she looked underage and it was a little early for the street walkers in my part of town to be out and about. 
I'm being unfair, I know. They COULD be in a relationship. But the fact is she was far more interested in her sucker than she was in him -- and in my experience, even a quick oral cop in the late morning between consenting adults will most likely include just a little post-glottal tenderness. 
This wasn't the blog I intended to write today. I had something else in mind, something having to do with this dog issue on my street. One of the houses on my street had a husky tied out without shelter all day yesterday -- a day with weather ranging from hot and sunny to torrential downpour. After trying unsuccessfully to find anyone home --or, at any rate, anyone who was willing to answer the door -- I called the city, which, with its usual bureaucratic ineffectiveness, did not come.  At points the husky was pulling on the VERY short tie out she was on and making that high pitched whine that only Huskies and German Shepards seem to make. 
Casual cruelty and abuse offend me more deeply maybe than intentional cruelty and abuse. At least when someone is intentionally evil, deliberately cruel and abusive, the direct action to correct it seems just. There is an intelligence -- albeit a disturbed one -- at work when cruelty is committed in a deliberate manner. I could even make the case that cruelty in the name of passion -- maybe not deliberate, but focused and full of evil purpose all the same -- is at least understandable, even though it is abhorrent. 
But casual cruelty is not deliberate. It's rooted in ignorance, and the educator in me still likes to think that ignorance can be educated and eradicated. And I know enough about this neighbor in particular to know that there is nothing deliberate in the aforementioned cruel behavior. Some people just don't see dogs -- big dogs especially -- as anything other than a soulless animal, something maybe pretty to look at, but in the end, not human and therefore not entitled to being treated with love and dignity.
At some point in the afternoon, some of the neighborhood kids checked on the Husky. Not long after, she disappeared -- and so I thought maybe either the city came and picked her up -- she would have found a home in no time -- or maybe the owner thought better of his or her cruelty.
The husky was back out early this morning. At an appropriate time I once again walked over to try and talk to someone at the house. Once again, no one was home - or no one answered.  I once again called the city. Sometime later the husky was gone again. And I hope to God that someone came and retrieved her.
There's no accounting for the humanity or lack thereof here along the dirty, sacred river -- or anywhere, really. One of the things I love about living in Louisville is that when you strip it to the bare bones and look at how it functions -- and in some cases, doesn't function -- this town is just that. It's a small town with some tall buildings and the growing pains of a mid-sized Midwestern City in the process of redefining itself. 
But when you look at the bare bones of a place like this, it's hard not to notice that while many of the things that make it a small town still exist, there's a malignancy growing there, too.  Live here long enough and you start to find odd connections between the seemingly disparate people you know because they either went to the same high school or grew up in the same part of town but never knew one another because they were bussed to different schools. Locals give directions based on non-existent landmarks.
But that casual cruelty -- which isn't absent from small towns, either -- grows on the bones and spreads with startling innocuousness. 

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25 May, 2018

Memorial Day: For all the Fallen Fathers (and Mothers), Real and Imagined

On leave in Florida. 
I am 45 years old and I'm still coming to terms with the impact my father's death had on my life.
Just when I think I've caught all the ripples and echoes created by the absence of gravity Dad instilled in my life, I end up finding just one more thing. One more ripple. One more echo. And it never stops.
The impact of his death on my life when I was 17 has been and is incalculable. It set into motion virtually all the circumstances that my life now is built upon, from my own fatherhood that has long defined the geography of my life to my writing which has long been the compass I've used to make my way through map I draw with every step I take and every line I write, to the deep anger that drove me towards self-destruction,  the weight of guilt and obligation that tore me away from self-destruction, and the imparted wisdom that eventually drew me back to the greatest love I could ever imagine. 
My father was a complicated man, though I don't think he wanted to be one. Then again, it's possible that men placed on pedestals always look complicated. Through the years of learning more about myself, I've been able to humanize him a little more... especially as I am now the age he was when I was small and  I was in and out of the hospital -- the age he was when he became my hero and the archetype by which I still (whether I mean to or not) judge all would-be heroes, real or imagined.
It also happens that my father was a veteran of two wars (Korea and Vietnam)  that America has
consistently overlooked. I would say that he part of the ignored generation of American Veterans -- but the truth is that our government has historically ignored those who risk life and limb in defense of the ideas embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our government breaks bodies and spirits, but it does not buy what it breaks. And while my father was fortunate enough to come back physically intact and mentally steeled, it's impossible for me to say exactly what the impact of his military service was -- which started when he was 17 and continued until he was almost 40.
It's impossible for me to understand the impact it had on him because I have never served and because he died before he felt like he could share those stories with me. 
I feel the absence of those stories almost as acutely as I feel his.
It's also impossible for me to understand the loss felt by sons and daughters whose fathers -- and whose mothers --did not come home alive or in one piece. And although I've long held the opinion that war is a travesty perpetrated by cowards too far removed from the devastation to feel its impacts, as time goes on I find that I see it even in starker terms. War is a sin, and a tragedy with an impact so devastating that it's easier to make more war than it is to examine the impacts.

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