Still Out There
Listen to/Watch entire show:
By Marc Porter Zasada
LIKE MOST IN L.A., the Urban Man puts limits on his relationship with the city. I choose my freeway exits carefully. I don't enter small liquor stores at night. I avoid long walks down dark, friendless boulevards.
But fortunately, through all my 20 years in this town, I've known that Suzanne Lummis was out there, embracing the chaos. Maybe you know Suzanne. She's that skinny, sometime redhead with the leopard-skin jacket and brightly-painted nails who KCRW once called -the lioness of the Southland poetry scene.- Her poems inhabit East Hollywood apartments, midnight bus stops and empty parking lots where she writes about things like getting mugged.
Often her stuff reads like stylized film noir: City of sirens and lowdown ways, neon
wincing like nerve ends, see
what you've done? When we first met in the Eighties, I was a downtown newspaper editor and Suzanne was a starving freelancer. I knew she was the granddaughter of L.A. pioneer Charles Fletcher Lummis, and in her big earrings and clattering heels, I thought she personified Los Angeles. Whenever she blew into my office, she always made me feel a little foolish: like I was hiding behind my desk while she was living in a Raymond Chandler novel and getting at the unruly heart of things.
In the Nineties, I left all uncertainties of journalism for a corporate life, and we lost touch for fifteen years. But I knew Suzanne was still out there. I knew she, at least, was still doing her job.
And finally last fall, when the Urban Man was feeling overly safe, I invited her to lunch. Suddenly, there she was again: still wearing those leopardskin jackets and high heels, defiantly unmarried and now definitely a lioness. She ordered a big plate of food and told me how, in spite of it all, she still loved the unreliability of this place, and the length of its friendless boulevards.
And yes, again she made me feel like a coward.
So tonight, with a light rain blowing across the city, the Urban Man leaves his sleeping family and goes on a little pilgrimmage. I drive to East Hollywood, there to find the apartment building where Suzanne penned her last book, called In Danger. I park at Lexington and Vermont -- like much of the city, a confused mix of civilization and chaos: There's a Ramada here, but also boarded-up doorways and men slinking along under ski caps. Her own building, number 1175, is now abandoned. Empty windows gape above a tiny liquor store. She wrote a poem about looking down on this spot: Blood on asphalt under streetlight
isn't red, it's almost black- She also set a play on the fourth floor, about a woman unable to escape the hiss of traffic, the noise of sirens, anonymous callers and the sound of a SWAT team entering the apartment next door. I saw that play, entitled Night Owls. The woman wants peace and certainty, but just can't lock the city out.
Now the rain picks up. I cross to the liquor store and as I walk in, I have one hand in my pocket, keeping my little tape recorder dry. One of the tough guys loitering inside backs off, and I remove my hand slowly. They keep the liquor behind a huge plexiglass wall and I lean down to the teller window, push back my fedora and ask the clerk for a quart of Wild Turkey. He hesitates only a second before turning his back on me.
Suzanne, surely you can make something out of this moment. Surely you can form it into elegant and approachable chaos. As for the Urban Man, he stands briefly outside where rain sparkles like diamonds on the hoods of passing cars, opens the bottle of Wild Turkey, and takes a few careful slugs before heading home.
Copyright - 2005 by Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Click the Full Details link to view the complete transcript. Tapes are not available.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY