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I don't know about you, but even after living several decades in L.A., I wonder if I'm really, you know, home. I'll be driving down a particularly random boulevard or crossing a beat patch of desert, and I'll think: "No way. Stop kidding around. This can't really be my home."
For starters, there's that weird sence of the temporary to everything you see here: the vegetation, the architecture, the attitudes. And it doesn't help that the earth itself doesn't seem to want us here. You know: earthquakes, droughts, fires, and of course, the Santa Anas that occasionally try to blow us out to sea.
I got that feeling again the other day while attending a funeral held on a hill just above a noisy freeway. It was itchy hot; in the distance, late summer fires were raging; the wind was blowing soot in our direction, and everyone was trying to pretend that "everything was normal" as we hacked and coughed, as our eyes watered, as we squinted down at the relentless hazy line of shiny cars heading West, then up at the sun hanging smudged and red in the smoky East. Now and then I brushed a bit of white ash off the sleeve of my good black suit.
Right as the casket was being lowered into the grave, the clergyman said, "Jack is headed to his true home," and I couldn't help thinking, just for a second... "Wait. You can't mean right here by the freeway."
But of course, I know what he meant. Religions like to assume that humans are never at home anywhere on earth. That anywhere we live is just way station, as if we all got off the bus at the wrong stop, and we just have to wait for the next bus to come along.
Jack, I think, would disagree.
Okay, I never actually met Jack — he was the father of a friend — but after an hour of speeches about the guy, he started to have a big affect on me. For starters, he seems to have been one of those people who not only loved life and loved L.A. — he knew how to be happy and normal here. No kidding...He worked in aerospace and followed the Lakers and went to Disneyland every year. He had a bunch of kids and only one, really long-term wife...just now weeping. His life was complex and interconnected, rooted, certain, apparently complete.
And suddenly, I was possessed with envy not just for Jack, but for all Angelenos who manage to achieve a sense of "home" in the megalopolis, I mean despite the relentless sun and unmitigated media, despite noir and goth, gangs and graffiti, careless hype and white limousines.
You read stories about those tough kind of people who brave the Amazon or survive at weather stations in Antarctica. But I think: Hey, isn't that sort of thing actually easier than holding down a regular job and raising reasonably well-adjusted kids in the greater L.A. area?
Surely the very act of attempting a "normal" life in this place is a kind of chutzpah, a finger jabbed in the eye of fate.
Now it's time for everyone to line up and toss a shovelful of dirt on the grave. When it's my turn I add, in a whisper: "Good job, Jack. I hear you beat the odds in the City of Dreams."
The funeral is over. In the distance, smoke billows across the sun, and the Urban Man makes a slow and dignified dash for his car, where I roll up the windows, kick in the a/c, and head for my own little 3+2 drifting somewhere out in the endless grid.
Copyright © 2009. Marc Porter Zasada
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