Echoes of the City (7)

Le Bon Pâtissier

 

There are certain things we all do in life, for right or wrong, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, so on and so forth. And in the inescapable, palpable reality of the adult world, as it has been constructed by current standards, there are a great many things (certain or uncertain) which must be done, albeit, begrudgingly.

There are yearly check-ups with doctors who are not really friends which must be maintained; there are dues to be paid and monies to be furnished for certain guarantees or requirements of life with which we must comply; there are family members whose well-being one must care about despite the fact that said kinsperson may or may not have fallen from our graces.

And that’s just the beginning of the month; the list goes on and on.

That is the current reality we have created and, as such, we must maintain it until we decide that maybe it wasn’t the best of ideas and, why not, just do things differently from now on—what the heck, right? What’s the worst that can happen?

Such is the life of an average adult human (male or female) in the contemporary Common Era.

 

So it was that a matter of weeks ago I found myself in multiple errands with my wife, errands which, I must admit, I do not shun as I take great pride in my domestic chores and all I can achieve in a good weekend’s worth of domestic achievements. However, one of said errands was met with inner dread and a sense of impending doom (my doom, of course), what was said errand? A visit to the off-price department store Ross—where, legend has it, one can Dress for Less.

I enjoy shopping as much as anyone, although not as much as other individuals have both admitted and professed. So shopping is not the factor that causes disdain in my soul, I believe (in hopes of honoring the truth) that it may have something to do with the setting of the store. Or, rather, it may boil down to the fact that maybe the particular Ross store we frequent may not be the greatest one in all of California.

There are just too many variables to try and pin-point the root of the issue, it is now far simpler to accept the facts as facts and try to work around them; or with them, if time permits. Although, if I aim to keep myself honest, there was a period of time where I did derive a great deal of pleasure by visiting the establishment; granted, said visits served the end-goal of furnishing the new apartment into which my wife and I had recently moved, but there were positives as well nonetheless.

The store and its products reflect to a great extent the realities of the customers who visit it: there are multiple languages being spoken, there are different levels of melanin to be seen, there are a great number of nationalities or ethnic backgrounds walking and standing in line waiting for the 2 or 3 cashiers who will usher out the hundreds—if not thousands—of individuals who will pass through the doors, purchase an item or twenty, pass through the doors again, and exit unto the plaza and parking lot.

One can find ornate mirrors, oversized bar stools and ottomans, just barely regular sized laundry hampers and, sometimes, flimsy room-dividers. And that’s just in one corner of the second floor. I’ve bought socks, running shoes, soccer balls and hats as well. My wife has bought outfits for herself, her clients and countless family members. There was even a time when the office coffee station was completely stocked after a trip to this store.

So all in all, I’d be remiss to just complain about it. Instead, I’d rather make some observations in regards to my most recent visit to the land of dressing for less(ing?)…

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And, as many things do in life in general, it all boils down to one single item, to a brief momentary glimpse of what I saw in that item—yes, I did go after the item for further analysis, but it all started with the aforementioned glimpse. It was just a blouse, but what a blouse. It was the conflict of interests of blouses all over the world.

As my wife browsed and perused the “tops” section of the first floor, which holds the lady products, I strayed briefly from her reach, as I often do, trying to assuage the pressure on my knees and the impending hunger which crept upon me. It was then, mixed-in with the rest of the blouses and tops, that I saw the taco, printed on a gray blouse.

I thought it was funny at a first glance, but then I examined it a bit more and I went from being mildly amused to confounded and then a bit confused. What was the message that the blouse and/or brand was giving to the public? I know it was just a piece of garment, but it created quite a clashing experience within itself.

A point-by-point analysis would serve us well in this situation. First, let’s examine the print of the blouse. As I said, it was a taco, but it was anthropomorphically stylized and it also had a catchphrase: Let’s Taco ‘bout it, was the motto.

Nothing wrong there, a bit of wordplay, a bit of pun intended-ness, a bit of street smart and some change in the pocket, been there done that of attitude. But of course, all of it was in playful synch with the almighty taco that was printed and on display.

I took the blouse from the rack to show it to my wife, and that’s when I noticed the brand name. That is the point where the confusion started: French Pastry, the brand.

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Well, at that point I wasn’t full-blown confused and confounded. My initial thought was that it was an odd juxtaposition of visuals and meanings one on top of the other. There was the taco, playful, brash, hip and non-confrontational; one could argue, the taco is trying to make peace or amends in a situation where the other party (or parties) have a bellicose attitude towards the taco (or a party for whom the taco is interceding). Then, there was the brand’s name which implied a certain je ne sais quoi, perhaps a bit of qu’est-ce que c’est, grandeur even, finesse also, a sense of being refined yet tempered and delicious; it was a name to imply a difference between the rest of the brands and itself—one could argue that Puff Pastry wouldn’t convey the intended meaning in the same way.

Yet, that wasn’t the end of it, because then there was the label attached to the blouse, which also showed the brand name but it added a brief description, perhaps the goal of the clothing company even: Inspired in Los Angeles, the label.

And that is when I grew confounded.

Taco. French Pastry. You combine the two of them and you get… LA Urban Style? That’s where the mind inevitably goes, right?

It was with those thoughts circling in my mind that I finally was able to catch up with my wife, still dead-set on showing the anachronistic blouse to her. However, it did not seem to have the same gravitational pull on her as it had on me. The only reaction that was elicited, was my wife handing me the excess garments so she could go into the dressing room to try on the allowed 8 pieces.

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Ultimately, the blouse was returned—albeit to the wrong section, this one labeled “pants” as opposed to “tops”—and the selection of garments my wife had accrued was diminished enough to her liking. So it was that the trip to Ross ended.

Looking back to it, I may have had too large of a reaction to what some may consider a simple causality of life. But one could argue that in the end, those contrasts, as the ones found in blouse and label, are what has shaped this city—all cosmopolitan cities for that matter—through the years. The combinations of geography, immigration, society and everything else can ultimately lead to individuals being inspired by an infinite number of variables.

So why not taco ‘bout it in whatever language speaks to you the most? Be it food or fashion…

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Echoes of the City (6)

Life… out of the back of a truck

 

It’s neither uncommon nor unheard of, but it’s also not everyday of the week one happens upon someone who appears to be asleep in their vehicle, be it a car or a truck—it’s obviously harder to sleep in a motorcycle or bicycle. Yet, that’s what happened to me on a Monday in July of 2017, as I started the week.

The woman was well dressed, at least by hipster-millennial standards (and by people-who-live-in-their-car standards as well), and I saw her as she was fashioning her belt and jacket over her somewhat wrinkly white dress—in all honesty it could’ve been a skirt/blouse combo, I did not have the time to properly discern, catalogue and critique her outfit. But the foremost thought in my mind, as I sped by on my way to work, wasn’t necessarily related to what she was wearing, it was: why is she getting dressed out on the street?

As I inched closer to her and the parked small (-ish?) Ford (maybe?) pick-up truck with a camper covering the back, I witnessed a brief glimpse of the answer. Or what I thought the answer was at the very least.

A bed had been fashioned in the covered back of the truck and there appeared to be drawers beneath said bed. The woman was standing by the truck with the back door open and was grooming herself. Ergo, the woman was sleeping in the truck and utilizing it as her abode.

That was my gut instinct…

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Was this the same vehicle?

And though—as I said previously—it’s not everyday that one happens upon someone who’s hiding from the inclemencies of weather in their vehicle, this is still the city, the concrete jungle; and, as we all know by now, the city of angels does face a housing shortage. Well, no, let’s talk about it as adults who speak to children: it’s not necessarily a housing shortage, rather, an affordable housing shortage.

I was reminded of that very same fact the next day of my chance encounter, as I drove through the same streets where not 24 hours ago I had seen a blonde woman getting ready for her day in the middle of the street.

Just like it happens after every local or county-wide election, just like it happens after every national election, and just like it happens whenever there is an officer involved shooting of an unarmed man of color, it boils down to housing: where we live, where we want to live, where we are able to live, where we are allowed to afford a place to live, and multiple variations of the same questions and/or statements.

To some it appears to be a never ending issue/cycle without any viable solution in sight—to the point of some cynically seeing it all as “necessary evils” of modern city life. However, at least to me, the reality should be perceived more along the lines of “if the city and our society have not yet ended and are still evolving, then, how come the issues of society needed to be over yesterday?”.

I admit that I am not a social scientist, nor am I an economist; but I do believe that I have enough common sense to know that if our societal evolution has not yet reached an apex, then that should mean, even if by elimination, that the solutions to our problems as a society have also not reached a cusp point.

That’s what tumbled back and forth in the old brain of mine as I approached the area where I had seen the woman the day before. And as I suspected she was not there to be seen again, but I wasn’t surprised really. After all, this is a giant of a city and more often than not, changes take place one after another like a snowfall: from one minute to the next there is free parking and then there is street cleaning on Tuesdays; there is an ever swelling group of children at a given street light and then the streets are completely deserted; there is a clear path through surface streets and suddenly you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic without warning, those are the alchemic reactions of life in a modern city—someone could say, if they wished to add the sweetness of poetry to their life and surrounding events.

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It is said we all want to live…

These changes—and many more which were not aforementioned but seemingly carry the same weight—happen every day, and one usually following the other in rapid succession; but not only in our surroundings, as we have built them through the centuries of human life. These changes also happen in the radio spots we listen to daily, in the programming of our TV’s, and, most importantly, in our livelihoods—work today, fired tomorrow.

So it was in my life as well, that I had been reminded of the conflicts regarding housing and affordable housing one day, the next? I’m hearing about the trials and tribulations of American progressive rock in the late 60s and 70s.

As I continued driving, Tool and the homeless encampments went by, and I thought more and more about it, about the reality of how but by a few cents and the grace of god—if you believe in said entity—it could’ve been myself, or, later, my wife and I who were out on the streets. Thankfully for us, that never came to pass.

But what about all the others who were caught in the snowfall of current events? What about those who weren’t lucky enough to escape the fate of the homeless encampments? Or what about those many individuals with names whom I knew and then were gone? Well, it would seem that the pages of history have to be filled somehow…

Echoes of the City (5)

I’m not from here, but my heart is…

 

What follows is a brief poetic opening, this in hopes of exemplifying both the sights/events that surround me through my day, and some of the sentiments the city of angels elicits in my self as I go about my everyday life:

The tacos next to the carwash

A market next to the church

Then a market next to the market

And so we all orbit around one same universe

But, is it the same universe? We question as we see it

Because we believe otherwise, we believe best and it shows

The obese woman strides through the intersection

Much too slow, much at the wrong time,

Red hand shines bright, a horn screeching

“I am fierce and I am myself!” she screams at the driver

“I am entitled to my space!” she affirms to herself

The bus driver, green arrow, at a standstill

The obese woman walks slowly, middle finger held high

The driver can’t turn left, he cannot turn left

The man who cooks al pastor looks over and stands as witness

Someone comes out from the church, also a witness

The bus driver, he couldn’t turn left…

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Though I hail from the desert—or deserts, if I aim to be true to my life and own story—my senses are not yet contaminated with the hustle and bustle of The City; of a real city that is, not a metropolis sprouted in the middle of the desert as a hub for wanderers who aim for heat and solitude but still want to retain a degree of “culture”.

In these statements I say “contaminated” not necessarily because I believe that noun to be the truth of what happens when you move to a city; but due to the fact that many people I’ve met feel that way about what happens when moving from the periphery and into the concrete jungle.

And yes, there are those who may prefer to live in rural or secluded areas, far and away from everything and everyone. Be it in the forests, in the snow, in the coasts, in the aforementioned deserts; solitude can take many shapes, infinity of them. But that does not make them right over those who prefer to live otherwise—and, inescapably, vice versa.

So ultimately there will be some who will prefer a certain lifestyle over another; and, again and of course, not everyone will enjoy said decisions (one way or the other). Just like not everyone can stand the psychological toll of a freeway, of being at a standstill before what is supposed to be the open road with drivers to your left and to your right, with vehicles in front and behind, the throttle of engines and the heat of exhausts surrounding you as the clock ticks forward but your vehicle does not—as a confession I must say I’ve personally met some who end up having a small but noticeable “freak-out” in those circumstances. Just like them there will be others whom are not able to stand before the immensity of sands spreading without end into the horizon, or who are not able to cope with their own identities after seeing their inferiority when standing before a living, breathing forest—I’m even reminded of a certain Harry Haller who disliked both cities and town, popularity and anonymity, so on and so forth.

However, none of those concerns seem to bother me as much as they seem to do others. There are quite many other preoccupations in life, both larger and of more consequence, than the city traffic or our position in the perceived social universe.

Growing up I never dreamt of escaping my surroundings—as I have done in the past, I admitted to myself and others to being malleable, and to this date I still believe it and admit it. I did however, feel a weight on my chest, on my heart and on my ideas and though it may seem unfair to say it thusly, it was a weight created by others and not myself. Because it was only at the moment of my ideas being espouses that I felt alien, when I was made to feel as an outsider looking in.

Perhaps to appease a potential, albeit unwanted, future, I affirmed many times the supposed fact that I could’ve learned to bear such feelings; but decided against it. I could’ve learned to enjoy the carne asada, and the beer which would wash it down every Sunday, and the fact living in a relationship that brought me no happiness.

But I decided against it. I decided against forcing a life upon myself and others that would surely end in unhappiness. It seemed to be quite the appalling move, but all in all, why should I have had to condemn myself to unhappiness just to preserve the normalcy of others?

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So it was that I came to The City, not ready for anything but expecting a more perfect future—paraphrasing the almighty, almost holy, constitution.

Would it be that my actions were tinged in selfishness?  Or would it be that I was searching for those options that should be available and viable to me just by existing? (As we are told we are created equal and in pursuit of several somethings that seem sometimes unreachable).

I guess the answer would depend, rather heavily, on whether or not the person asked has a positive idea of me or not.

Still, I am the one who after these ten plus years drives through these streets, walks through the countless miles of sidewalk, travels from point a to point b deep within the city’s bowels. I am the one who sees past fragments of himself in the individuals who walk the same streets through which I traverse. I am the one who sits by and listens to the sounds that sift through the concrete to mix and transform into a cacophony of life.

I am the one who can witness it all, graced by the never-ending life of this concrete fountain. I can, for better or worse—and for simplicity’s sake—; and due to having that option, I am content in ways I never was.

No, I don’t believe of myself as someone who is “blessed”, “gifted”, or particularly lucky in comparison to others—though I would admit to believing myself to be happy, in both fact and spirit. I believe the only actions I have taken, which could be considered different to my usual nature, were those in search of my own happiness, of my own acceptance, of my own self.

And I did find what I looked for, in part far away from the life I had lived, in part by transposing elements of my prior lives to where I wanted to be. I found what no one else ever said I could find, desire or dream of. I found it in The City, within its denizens, next to my fellow men and women, side by side in the non-stopping visage of human life.

The end result was the same we all long for:

A mixture of sad memories and new emotions which, when mixed, give a new meaning to the feeling of life; where all destinations are known, yet, every event is different.

In short, we gained ourselves. I gained myself and I would never lose me, for I am all I’ve ever had…

Echoes of the City (3)

die Haupstadt

I had never thought about it.

And even despite the fact that in my younger days I visited Mexico City, I truly had never given further consideration to the idea, the locale, the topography, to any of it really, to all the asides and accompaniments to that particular idea—or essence of one.

It’s something that happened.

It could be called a reward of sorts—though the reality is that it’s a position to be fulfilled which took me there—, the fact of it having happened twice now with a potential third time in the mid-term future (not too distant, not too close).

I’m talking about my visits to Washington D.C., the capital, land of democracy, congress, senate and the separations of power.

Or so the American legends go…

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The circumstances of the trip itself are derived from my decision of returning to school (after a 10 year hiatus in my studies), but that decision and everything that followed, elicits different feelings to those that I had after visiting “the shrine of American democracy”—maybe I’ll expand my thoughts regarding said feelings, the back to school ones, on some other time.

Granted, the current political climate and circumstances are much different to those of a year ago, when I ventured on my first trip to D.C., but the feelings that such a place stirred within me remained the same (much like the hot, humid atmospheric climate was the same).

When you lay your eyes on the city itself, you realize it’s made and designed to be imposing and even majestic, some would argue: The streets crisscrossing each other in one-way directions, the even-heighted architecture, the sobering reality of interests and counter-interests embodied in competing embassies that stand tall against each other, and, of course, there’re the monuments.

Yes, the monuments, memorials, parks, plaques and remembrances to historical figures—heroes some call them—who contributed to the development of this nation: presidents, warriors, politicians, and, sparsely, the regular men and women who carried the weight of a nation on their backs, either in freedom or servitude.

Last year I visited more of them than this year, last year I stood before the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, I stood before and walked the edges of the reflecting pool that stands between memorials and before the Romanesque pillars that enshrine the statue of he who is known to posterity as “honest Abe”.

And it was thanks to him and his memory that I felt it. I felt that connection, that feeling, that longing to say: “I too am an American, I descend historically from you great sir and my life will now be forever devoted to the historical essence of greatness that you have gifted your children; all of us, citizens of this nation”.

But I remained silent, reading his words—tinged with indelible greatness—such as they were, carved at each side of his towering stone effigy.

I also walked the semi-circles that memorialize those members of “The Greatest Generation” who were lost forever, either in the islands of the Pacific, or in the fields of Europe or Africa. There, among all the names, must lay a friend, an acquaintance, a known person to the man who would in time become my grandfather, he who fought and survived were others were unable.

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But that was then. Now we celebrated peace, the greatness of humanity, the greatness and divinity of human imagination. We celebrated art.

I must make it clear, again, that it was in effect a working visit to the nation’s capital more than anything else; but still, we were rewarded with a visit to the National Gallery of Art—place I had never visited before.

It had quite the effect on me.

From the gorgeous architecture of the building itself, to the niches, domes and rotundas inside, to the second-floor gardens and fountains, to the art contained therein, to Molly our #MuseumHack guide, to the group of people with whom I walked the streets—and shared Uber and Lyft rides—, to the enormity of the National Mall and the museums, offices and specific departments of this nation’s government surrounding the museum. It was awe inspiring, daunting, and invigorating.

Of course, it could also be that since I was with a group of students (albeit younger, much younger than me) who voiced agreement to some of my ideas, who voiced a concern for the future, who voiced a love for the intellectual and scholarly pursuits on top of the want to better the reach of our organization’s members—since, after all, that was the purpose of my visit—; that may have also shaped the sentiment and the way I processed and understood all of what I saw before me.

The man-made capital of a nation who professes not perfection, but an experiment in evolution, an experiment of a “more perfect union”—this implying that perfection has NOT been achieved.

It could also be that since it was my second time around the feelings of being out of place, of being alien to everything had somewhat dissipated from my worrisome inner self.

It could be that standing before the turn-of-the-century brick buildings that are now gastropubs, I saw the passage of time; caring not for the memories of the long forgotten hands that shaped those places, brick by brick.

It could be that standing before the portraits of presidents long-forgotten, of wars that never should’ve been fought, I saw the blood-lines of my own family; scurrying down time and human divisions, until they come to rest and shape the imperfect being that I am, now carrying that blood and their memories.

The reality is that it could have been so many other things and there could have been an infinity of variables; or there could’ve been none of those things and maybe there couldn’t have been a single reason or variable to make me feel what I feel and be who I am.

But, no matter the reasons, it was. And I was—both there, in the location, and in action/existence.

I took part of it and even to those whom I look up for inspiration or guidance, were also acknowledging of what I have done and they haven’t. And part of it, was also taken with me, forever.

So yes, I was there. In the capital, in the streets, in the museums, I lived and breathed the air of a different city. I saw and felt the breeze streaming through the Potomac River. I gazed and took in all the symmetrical constructions around me.

And, in the end, I came back; from one city to another, from the capital to my home. With the knowledge that I had changed, just as much as both cities had since before my time, during my time, and just like they will also change, much after I’m gone—always searching that more perfect status, always in constant movement.

Echoes of the City

I am fully aware of the differences between them all and of the complaints of other individuals about this particular one. I very much know there are those who say: “it’s not truly world class”; and, I know as well that it is in fact not London, it is not Paris, it is not New York City or Tokyo.

Some of them, who issue those criticisms, believe it is living off the ascribed glamour and the embellished ideas that are born from the scent of easy money and quick-found fame. But after twelve long years, after a life that took shape in great part thanks to it, I can only call it my home and my city: Los Angeles.

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Standing so high above it and looking down at it, surrounding myself in the perpetual noise that is carried by its air, I feel as if I understand it for the first time: So mighty, so developed, yet so fragile and distant: It needs us, just as we need it.

It needs those who believe in it, not because of false ideals of glossy fame, unbridled advancement and frame-ready life—despite how much we all fall, in weakness and in moments, into these. It needs those who believe in the reality of it, a never ending experiment of “more better”, of time not standing still only on a given period or neighborhood; those who believe in the constant growth of life, humanity and society, all in shared asphalt and pavement extending from the mountains into the sea.

It needs those who dwell underneath it as much—if not more—as it needs those who dwell in crystal spires that sprout from historic grounds, disputed by blood and the passage of knowledge through time.

It needs those who have daily, short-term dreams of living life a little better with each sunrise, just as it needs those who come here to abuse the generosity of the All-Mother who took the shape of a city and embraced both evil and good, for all are her children.

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And yes, I believe in it. If not for myself, for the truths that have been found and experiences that have been lived by others and witnessed by some, for the opportunities and new life given to those—whom I knew—worthy but left behind.

That very well may be why I believe in it, why I see past the cynicism and inherent selfishness. Though I do wish for myself and dream my own dreams; I do not lose myself in the ideals of selflessness and moral victories; yet, having seen the new life that is breathed by this city into the dreams that were once extinguished, I cannot deny then that there are others whose place is here and their time is now.

Nor can I deny how this city is and will be alive.

And how this city holds them, its children, and loves them, just as they hold, live and love the city of angels back.

El Desierto

Everything contained/posted herein constitutes an opinion; individual, alone and of the writer’s own property. As I am not an expert in any subject, I just attempt to write without malice. That is all.

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Todo lo aquí contenido/publicado constituye una opinión; individual, solitaria y de la propiedad del escritor. Puesto que no soy un experto en materia alguna, solamente intento escribir sin malicia. Eso es todo.