a vision of the end of humanity
Sunday, June 25 2000
In the morning, Kim and I drove out to the neighborhood of Silver Lake, which is a community just to the east of Hollywood and very close to downtown Los Angeles. One of Kim's tantra chums lives there and we were hoping to pick up a pair of shoes Kim had accidentally left at some past ill-fated tantra errand.
This particular part of Silver Lake is completely different from the sort of Los Angeles I'm used to seeing over on the west side. For one thing, the sun is relentless and bright and the air is hot and dry, like the desert. But then there's the neighborhood. One had a sense of the overall economic level of the people living there just from the sheer number of big late 70s American cars parked on the street. There was also a single Mercedes, and its owner, was spending his day proudly tinkering with with its wheel mechanisms. A shirtless Latino teenager sat out on the front stoop of his house, staring across the patch of dust that served as a front yard, loud gangsta rap aggressively making a territorial statement through the open front door behind him. Kim was not successful in getting her shoes.
Simply crossing a ridge from this rather seedy neighborhood, we found ourselves in a decidedly more upscale part of Silver Lake, its streets and sidewalks suddenly lush with tropical plants, rather resembling New Orleans, Kim thought.
Down on the commercial strip along Sunset Blvd., just about everybody at the outdoor cafés was hip, tattooed and pierced. Unfortunately, there was no room at any of these places for us. We were forced to get our breakfast from one of those Mexican food trailers. Though we had to sit on milk crates upon a sidewalk spotted with countless ejected servings of bubble gum, I will say that my veggie burrito was excellent.
We came back west along Hollywood Blvd., passing for the first time ever the famous "walk of stars" which lines both sides of Hollywood Blvd. for several blocks of downtown Hollywood. There they were, big black five pointed stars set in concrete with just random non-famous people strolling mostly obliviously over them, as close as they ever get to fame.
Perhaps attempting to get a little closer than that, Kim bought a "star map" from a Hispanic vendor somewhere on the way to West Hollywood. Last year's map was $6, but we didn't skimp, getting the up-to-date $8 version. Star maps, such as they are, supposedly reveal the locations of famous people hiding out in their villas in the Hollywood Hills. I'm sure there are plenty of celebrities who dislike the fact that these maps exist. Perhaps they'd be less concerned if they knew that such maps are most often bought by the likes of Kim, mostly interested in drive-by architectural prospecting.
We didn't pay much attention to the map as we drove through Bellaire and into Beverly Hills. Kim saw the map as more something to break out when one is trying to entertain guests from out of town.
Kim and I ran a bunch of errands in the afternoon. In the Santa Monica Co-op Grocery Store, my task was to get the vegetables. Amongst the other mushrooms, I saw an exotic variety called the "Japanese Fyrngi." It was a small cream-colored gilled mushroom that grew in tight clumps. Seeing that they were $9/pound, I covertly snarfed one down right there in the store. The Fyrngi was fairly good initially, as raw mushrooms go, but then a creeping bitterness snuck up on me, leading ultimately to upper intestinal cramps lasting a half hour or so.
Unable to find the recycling center Kim had seen advertised at the Co-op, the place that ought to know, I directed her to one I knew about near my workplace. As we pulled up, I saw a stooped human figure leaning over a partially-loaded shopping cart. She was so slow and disheveled, so devoid of humanity, she seemed almost as if she was part of the trash, which she really was. Evidently no one in the world cared about her whereabouts or activities.
On closer inspection, the true horror of her condition became apparent. She was as if from a concentration camp, but, given her age and frailty, somehow beyond even that level of degradation. Her thighs were no thicker than baseball bats, with big blue blood vessels climbing up them like leafless vines. Her neck projected out from her shoulders at a ninety degree angle, and her matted yellowish grey hair fell forward over her face precisely like that of small drowned mammal caught in the low fork of a floodplain sapling. For a moment I saw her face. She lacked the strength to look at anything but the ground, so mercifully I never made eye contact. From the side, her face resembled the mask of a mummified face, frozen forever with the expression of a certain horrible day. Every movement came slowly and almost unnaturally, as if she was some sort of animatronic robot. The woman was old, at least in her eighties. How had she spent her life? Who had she known? Who had she befriended? Where were these people now? I've seen some hard luck cases in my day, but nothing like this. This woman belonged in intensive care, not picking through trash. But I didn't want to get involved. She was picking trash when I came, and she was still picking it after I was gone. I was left with a vision of the whimpering end of humanity, a time when the last human left alive will have no one to talk to or love, and only a diminished sense of what those things mean anyway.
In the evening, Kim and I went down to the Dr. Suzy Block Studios to do some "work." I also brought my painting Original Sin, which will be part of the exhibit entitled Democratic Sex (the reason for this theme is obvious once you realize that the Democratic National Convention will be taking place only a block or so from the studio). Original Sin isn't particularly erotic, but it does feature an American Flag and its theme is childhood sexuality. And if those kids were naked, I'd be in jail. That'll be the next version. For my part, I just think it's great that kids are sexual beings and it's a terrible waste of human concern that so many people are beside themselves with horror at the very thought of the idea.
True to his decadent European ways, Max had a bottle of contraband absinthe (smuggled by a friend from Poland), and he poured me a glass of the stuff. It looked like green mouthwash and was a hundred and something proof, but after a glass of it, I was feeling amazingly lucid. The wormwood extract lifts you right out of any sedative effects of the alcohol. I've had a variety of homebrewed absinthe before, but never the real thing.
We were talking again about those Mexican vegetable delivery trucks that ply the alleys playing tinny electronic renditions of "La Cucaracha" ("They all play 'La Cucaracha'"). Max detailed the bullet-proof economic model driving the business. "They drive up and down the alleys all day long. They're always drunk and stoned, but you should see the rolls of cash they carry. They buy the spotted and slightly old stuff from grocery stores for practically nothing and sell it for five times as much [ie: practically nothing] to people who wouldn't be able to drive to the store even if they wanted to." When Max didn't buy anything on one of the truck's passings, the driver came in and bummed a cigarette. As he was leaving, Max joked, "I'm a big account."
In other things, tonight was the first time Kim ever heard me play piano (on a Steinway with genuine ivory keys), and she was amazed at my monotonous Philip Glassesque improv. "You really are a Renaissance Man!" she enthused.
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