Traces Left Behind
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Here in the city, we'd all like to leave behind some permanent mark. You know: A famous name. A thriving institution. A really excellent kitchen remodel.
But it's not so easy, not in a town as wide and shifting as the sea. Often we feel like just another wave… departing, well, without a trace. You work hard on a film, then see it roll without your credit. You open a funky club, then people tire of funk. You pour your heart into that kitchen remodel—then, soon as you flip the house, the next folks uproot your antique brass and tear out your Corian countertops.
It's tough to make a lasting impression even if you're, like, really rich. You finance a museum, but a bigger donor comes along, and the board forgets to rehang your little brass plaque. You found a studio, then it gets acquired by Turner Classics. You build a mansion in the Holmby Hills, but soon as you're gone, your widow sells out to an Arab prince who takes it Tudor.
Not many of us get permanent dots on the little maps.
The Urban Man likes to think he's pursuing a less concrete, but equally effective strategy. No buildings yet feature plaques with my name—and I anticipate no star on the Boulevard. But I do attempt to leave traces of my soul here and there in the wide open sprawl of this place.
For example, I've left a personal revelation to linger atop a large boulder at Leo Carillo beach, a moment of happiness to idle on a Wilshire balcony—and a subtle glance exchanged with my wife still hangs in the air at a little sushi place in Westwood.
I know this strategy works because I've revisited such spots after 20 years…even laundromats and half-remembered bars…and sure enough, even though the joint has been reconfigured and the name changed a dozen times, I've spotted earlier incarnations of the Urban Man sitting there with an enigmatic smile. Only I can see him, but I'm convinced that yes, even in L.A., the soul persists.
Last week a friend told me I should stop all my worrying about the temporary nature of life here. She assured me that any deed which survives just seven days in L.A. is worth doing. Fresh wallpaper. A relationship. A career. After all, how long do most books or films or artworks have an impact anymore? The half-life gets shorter and shorter.
I think maybe she's right.
In fact, the other day I was biking down one of our massive paved creek-beds when I stopped beneath the 405 to unclip my water bottle. There, deep in the shade, I saw a boy about 16 standing on a folding chair and tagging a pillar with a can of red spray paint.
It was just, you know, the two of us out in the big sea of concrete.
Like a good citizen, I yelled, “Hey.”
The boy paused, and turned slowly. Then he offered me a little wink and a grin, and went right back to work.
My hand did reach for my phone—but I'm sorry to report that I did not call the cops. You see, there was something about the enigmatic nature of his smile that stopped me. And for a full minute, as I watched him frame his nickname in those big puffy letters, I tried to work through the message in his wink. I knew it represented something more than nonchalance. I realized he had said, as plain as words:
“Well, Mr. Urban Man. In the end, we're not so very different, are we, you and I?”
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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