Looking for Hints
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This is Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man for KCRW.
It’s the holidays, and again this year I’ve gone looking for subtle hints that the universe really cares: not just about humankind, but about Angelenos. Nothing miraculous, mind. I’m not expecting something involving exactly eight jelly donuts at Factor’s deli. No stigmata appearing on a major male celebrity. No elves dancing across the La Brea Tar Pits.
In fact, again this year I expect nothing requiring green screens, hidden generators, or Photoshop manipulation. I mean, the universe doesn’t work that way anymore...only we do.
No, I’m talking about everyday indications of undeserved affection from the cosmos: tiny hints and metaphors of redemption — hints only visible when you look at them just right.
You know, like when you accidentally leave your car in a Beverly Hills tow-away zone for three hours, and it’s still there when you get back. When you miss a call on your cell, and you see it was your ex. When your lawyer takes you to lunch and doesn’t bill. When you say something stupid to a beautiful woman, and she doesn’t hear. When you slip through 10 green lights along Wilshire, all in a row. When you’re lost in a dodgy neighborhood and you suddenly find the onramp home.
I figure it’s important to take these as signs that there might be hope, even for us. That in spite of how very bad we’ve been, heaven may still cut us a break — you know, in spite of sexy young vampires and torture-based horror films; in spite of the attention we gave Jon Gosselin and Balloon Boy this year; in spite of our increasingly mean-spirited tattoos and meaner-spirited lyrics; in spite of the fact that we don’t call our mothers or know the names of our children’s friends.
Redemption, in short, despite it all.
The other day, for example, I was standing by the window of a noisy café, having a dark conversation on my cell, when a small toddler wandered by outside. She was dressed in the loud and plastic clothing of our time, but she gave me an undeserved smile, as if she and I had some secret agreement about the ultimate and exquisite goodness of all things — and I swear that for two seconds, I completely forgot what I was talking about.
Two seconds, sometimes, is enough.
Later that afternoon, I was waiting on the middle floor of a grim mid-Wilshire mid-rise, when an elevator opened, packed with people, all laughing at some shared joke. No one got off: The doors just closed, and the elevator continued upward. But that moment seemed to indicate...something.
Never mind the deliberate lights and candles, songs or colored displays you see this time of year: you know these are only deliberate special effects, and surely, by now, we are all inured to special effects. Again this year, I urge you to join me in looking for undeliberate hints of cosmic affection.
For example, when you glance up at the Santa Monica Mountains tonight, and see the glow of the Valley on the other side, try not to think of light pollution. Try to imagine it as a metaphor for a heavenly benediction waiting just over the rise of Laurel Canyon.
It works when heading from the valley to the city, too.
Tomorrow there’s no snow predicted, but we might get high winds rattling the leaves of palm trees way up overhead, so if you go walking at night, and you deliberately tune out the background noise of the traffic, you might succeed in hearing this rattling as a kind of music, like the clatter of prayer wheels turned by monks on high Himalayan mountains, like a flurry of birds settling on a lake in the African veldt, like a metaphor for angels, crossing the midnight sky of the megalopolis with noisy wings.
It might just be enough.
For KCRW, I’m Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man. Have a great holiday.
Copyright © 2009. Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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