The Moral of the Story, Part 2
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The Moral of the Story, Part 2 <br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> Again tonight, I want you to help me look for the moral in a random L.A. encounter. <p> This story begins with the Urban Man walking nervously down a dark and deserted boulevard. I won't tell you which boulevard, because you would laugh. You would say, "Dear Urban Man, try walking down Comptom Boulevard at 11pm. Don't tell us you got nervous walking down ___. " Well, like I said, I don't want you to laugh. <p> Still, I'm dressed up, I'm wearing noisy shoes, and I'm packing nothing but a small-calibre cell phone as I head back to my car after some giddy reception. <p> Suddenly I notice a large man in a ski cap and baggy pants following half a block behind. I walk faster, and I start to worry that that other L.A. is about to intrude on my L.A. I mean, what if the L.A. often seen on the local TV news is about to move in on the L.A. where a man can leave an elegant party and stroll confidently beneath a glowing red sky to his late-model car? <p> In the other L.A., people glance furtively over their shoulders. In this L.A., we walk like Gene Kelly. We figure that if we keep to our allotted streets, that other L.A. will keep to its allotted streets. <p> You know, kind of like zoning. <p> Unfortunately, I now recall the words of my friend Morty. Morty has a sense of history, and one night as we looked out over a crowded, well-lit Bar Mitzvah celebration, he started talking about the way the cold night began just beyond the front door. He claimed that what we call civilization is just a thin veneer painted over grim chaos. According to Morty, it's not like you find civilization here, and chaos over there--it's more like the cheerful party and the late model car are just pleasant illusions. <p> He said some other ontological things, but like most people here, neither of us had actually seen the movie Crash, so we couldn't draw any witty or racist parallels. <p> Now the hoodlum walks right behind me. I can feel his size and hear his heavy steps, but I don't turn to look, because it might make him mad. Instead, I think: I need to get this guy on my own turf, so I turn off along a residential street, and I walk straight up the driveway of a local mini-mansion--you know, one of those big stucco haciendas lit with many clever lights. At the front door, I pull out my car keys and pretend to fumble at my own lock, and yes, when I glance over my shoulder, the street's gone empty. <p> I think: Hah! Score one for civilization. <p> Nevertheless, my car is still parked on the dark and deserted boulevard, and after ten minutes, I gather my courage and head back around the corner, where the thin veneer evaporates. The large man has been waiting for me, baggy pants and all. <p> "Hey mister," he says, "Can you spare a dollar? I swear I don't drink." <p> Now I see he's actually a thin and ragged man made bulky by much clothing, and the ski cap holds back dirty gray hair. In fact, I recognize him as a street person I have seen in this neighborhood many times: A Westside streetperson. I know where he sleeps, and surely he belongs to this turf as much as I. <p> At once, I try to extract a moral from the story, something about paranoia or local assumptions. But I'm ashamed to say I give the man just two dollars, only enough for a down payment on a Big Mac. And when I locate my cheerful, late-model car, the Urban Man locks his door with unbecoming satisfaction -- happy that the natural order has been preserved, and the two L.A.s have stayed separate for one more night. <p> Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved. <br>
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