History Almost Occurs
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By Marc Porter Zasada
EVERY DAY IN THE METROPOLIS, each of us tries to get it all together. Not only must the radio in the SUV get fixed before the warranty expires, and not only must we call the dentist about that duplicate bill, but eventually we really should change our cell phone plan, and visit Uncle Fred in the nursing home.
Of course, for most of us, these goals prove as elusive as greatness: not because we are incompetent, but because each day we must execute an even more daring ballet: carpool at 7 and then the on-ramp to the 10 before 7:45.
Still, who knows? Maybe tonight, when a clock strikes midnight in some anonymous home, somewhere out on the glittering grid, some lucky couple will momentarily have modern life entirely under control: their taxes filed, their garage organized, their insurance companies satisfied, automobiles lubricated, kitchen floor waxed, cards in the mail to distant mothers, and each of their three children asleep with a newly won soccer trophy by his side.
At that magic hour, perhaps all the digital clocks in their home will display the exact same time: 12:00, and our civilization will reach some kind of peak. So tonight, the Urban Man has arranged to sleep on a fold-out bed in the den of a two-story stucco hacienda in a master-planned community down in Orange County, where they seem to be awfully organized.
Never mind how it happened: friends of friends, a family event... In any case, I'm hoping to see history made.
Certainly, the layout is auspicious. This house is one of six models available in a walled development. You know: a sea of red-tiled roofs, open floorplans, miniature landscaping and unrestrained sprinkler systems. The haciendas are tightly-packed, but massive: 20-foot ceilings in the living room and each entry hall fitted with a staircase worthy of the Rockettes.
Upstairs sleep my hosts, both physicians, along with three apparently studious and athletic children.
Before they went to bed, the family joked about the way their neighborhood has the virtual sameness of a video game, and how a single uncoiled hose will catch your attention as you drive through.
I laughed, but secretly I was thinking, "Yes, all the signs are falling into place." Out front, both the tiny lawn and its attendant shrubs are flawless, and I know there's a new minivan cooling in the spotless garage. The foldout bed is also new. In fact, they have never removed the plastic from the mattress --so I lay sweating as I recall the chaos of my own life back in town...and fill with envy.
I think: My G-d, what if these folks really do have it all together? At five to midnight, I rise, careful to muffle the crackling plastic beneath my sheets. And yes, as I wander downstairs in the moonlight, I find everything in place: Framed family photos. Alphabetized CD's. In the kitchen, I read a detailed chart of swimming lessons and anniversaries.
Outside, in the night, the other haciendas push in toward us across the narrow yard, as if they knew their crowning moment were at hand. Through their windows, flat screen TV's flicker.
The Urban Man waits as civilization arcs toward its high point. And when the display on the stove blinks to midnight, I begin walking from room to room to check the digital clocks. Yes! Yes! And then lo, I see that on the VCR, the clock still reads 11:59... and as I rush back to the kitchen I notice a stack of unpaid bills at the end of the counter.
At first, I am overcome with disappointment. And then I feel a kind of relief to know that history will have to wait a little longer.
Copyright 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Author's Note: This piece was partly inspired by the article, "Patio Man and the Sprawl People" by David Brooks, in the August 12, 2002 issue of the Weekly Standard Magazine --a lengthy, incisive, and rather mean-spirited analysis of the American suburbs. One of the great things about L.A. --although shocking to the world --is that we do not distinguish between suburbs and city. At the same time our suburbs are becoming cities in their own right, we have always embraced "suburban values" as our own --without the slightest shame. One of those values, Brooks points out, is the powerful desire to lead "a together life." MPZ.
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