Listen to/Watch entire show:
People say that L.A. has no beginning and no end, but it's not true. We have Santa Monica Pier. Surely, this is the very first place everyone visits when they arrive in the metropolis, the spot where we all wash ashore to thrive or fail.
In my fantasy version of L.A., it's the first square on a vast game board — the square where everyone sets down his little marker before rolling the dice and advancing east up Colorado. After that, you pick a card and turn right or left along the Yellow Brick Road.
Just now it's late afternoon on the pier, and a brisk wind pulls at hats and sweatshirts. The sun will soon set, the buskers are packing up, and the Urban Man is strolling a thinning crowd, keeping one hand on his fedora, when he hears, "Hey mister! Can you spare five bucks?"
I look up to find a smiling boy/man of about 21, close-cropped hair, tall and perfect of chin, carrying a new guitar case and an expensive backpack, each no doubt a present from mom and dad back in Kansas. His jeans are carefully rent in strategic places. And though it's getting pretty cold, he wears no sweatshirt, just a skintight T and a choker of beads. Better yet, he has that insouciant look, that untroubled, "here I am world" expectation. In short, he looks like a person already famous.
And I remember how someone once said, "In L.A., we don't idolize Prosperity so much as we idolize Possibility." It's never what we have, it's what we might have tomorrow.
"I've been playing out here all afternoon," he says. "My best stuff. But I didn't make enough for dinner."
"Where are you from?" I ask.
"Here and there," he replies, not admitting to Kansas. "We just got to L.A. this morning. Another five bucks, and we can get a decent meal."
Only then do I notice the girl, wrapped in a nice down jacket, sitting on a bench, one hand on her rolling suitcase, looking placidly north at the lights springing up along the coast.
I don't know about you, but I'm always impressed when people ask for a solid fiver. In fact, I offer that advice to anyone looking for a handout. It sets a nice tone for the ensuing negotiation.
"I can spare two bucks," I say, pulling them out of my wallet.
"Oh come on, we just got here," taunts the boy/man, waiving away my cash. It's a strange argument, but it forces me to perform a complex philosophical calculation.
I mean, I know I should be bothered by the haughty expectation of his youth. I should tell him that I save my charity for people who have already thrown the dice and lost, for the folks now wandering confused and backward around the gameboard to the pier. By rights, I should get annoyed and say, "Hey, get a job."
But the boy/man has unsettled me with the utter equanimity in his eyes, his certainty of good times ahead. He has somehow established the sense that I, as a representative of the city, owe him, the current representative of all possibility, at least five bucks. It's not a charity, he seems to say, it's an offering to that local god named "All That Might Be."
Sure enough, I put back the two dollar bills and pull out a Lincoln.
Only now does the girl turn and give me a smile. Then she stands and takes the boy/man's hand, and they turn toward the city, which night has officially turned to
Oz. And yes, of course I envy them as they head up the steep road from the pier and disappear along Colorado, on the lookout for the wizard who will make all their dreams come true....Or not.
Either way, thinks the Urban Man, that was worth five bucks.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY