Hints and Metaphors
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It's the holidays, and the Urban Man has gone looking for metaphors of redemption. Never mind the colored lights strung along the balconies of Eastside apartment complexes. Never mind the menorahs still sitting in the windows of many Westside Jews. Never mind the singing fountain at The Grove, the construction paper symbols taped by schoolchildren to the doors of their classrooms, or the bracing noise of parties thrown from now to New Year.
That would be too easy, too... intentional. For surely, whatever faith we follow, we would all prefer a redemption which arrives undeserved and unplanned. That's why the Urban Man goes looking for seemingly accidental nods of affection from the universe itself.
You know, the little things that show it really cares.
Just last week, for example, I was driving down the 10 Freeway near Venice Boulevard on the usual too-bright, too-dusty afternoon when I noticed a single lime-green balloon floating up over the huge industrial transformers and the grim buildings of Kaiser Permanente.
Even though I was maneuvering in traffic, I watched this balloon as long as I could and tried hard to decipher its broader implications.
And you know how sometimes, lifting the nose of your Ford Taurus over the Sepulveda Pass, the traffic will suddenly begin to move freely--even though you're heading for the Valley at 4 pm, and you have no right to expect heavenly dispensation?
It could be a tiny sign.
Or okay, if the traffic doesn't actually begin to move, you might glance up at the tram heading toward the Getty Center, and notice a child plastering her face against the window, looking down at you. And you might think, “No matter what else happens over the next hour out in the metropolis, surely that little girl will experience some moment of beauty up there on the fountained plaza.”
Like her, you might also seek out art for inspiration. One day, walking across the courtyard of MOCA downtown, I looked up at that big, intimidating sculpture--you know the one made of aircraft parts all cobbled together in a kind of stillborn explosion--when I saw a white bird preening itself on a bit of fuselage as if it sat on the branch of a tree. Even as I watched, it spread its own wings in a kind of benediction.
Now, the Urban Man believes in regular attendance at religious services, but we all have to admit that they tend to offer few explicit promises. Too often, when we go looking for the really big signs: the sudden recoveries, the windfalls of wealth, the cessations of conflict, they don't arrive in the proper manner.
That's why it's important to notice these small and unrequested metaphors.
Give it a try and one day soon, you'll be sitting at a booth with five or six smart and aggressive colleagues when late sunlight will shoot unexpectedly through the front windows of the bistro and illuminate your glass of iced tea... just your glass.
Later, walking back to your car, you'll notice a streetlight shining deep inside a sycamore tree, exactly like hidden wisdom.
In fact, late the other night, the Urban Man was hiking up the ridge trail above Temescal Canyon when I noticed the city creating a glow out across the otherwise dark water of Santa Monica Bay, much like the halo of an artificial moon.
Now, don't get too excited. Like I said, these are no more than faint hints, vague signs and subtle intimations.
Still, I think we should all take heart.
Happy Holidays from the Urban Man.
Copyright © 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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