I spent most of last week in Griffith Park. After working nights at Independent Shakespeare Company’s studio the week before – building the set for their summer productions in the park – it was refreshing to work in the daytime and outdoors, assembling the set. It’s been pretty smooth, so far. I haven’t run into any of the million or so snafus that a carpenter can run into when building something somewhere other than where it will stand. So far, things have gone as planned, and I’m on schedule – it’s weird to type that.
The stage overlooks a fine meadow bordered by the cages of the old LA Zoo. The empty pens add a haunted feeling to the pretty scenery – ghosts of lions, tigers, bears are observed by ghosts of human mothers, fathers and children in the heat waves of the day and are gone by the cool evening breeze. I like a little ghostliness mixed in with my beauty, and I can think of far worse places to work. Mountains hover above the zoo cages – covered in splotches of dark green trees and blanketed in beautiful golden grass. Yes, it’s a fine place to spend a day, and not without company. Many Angelos y Angelas – for one reason or another – frequent the park on a daily basis.
Here’s a general rundown of my day in Griffith Park:
Morning. The sun is behind the trees and it is cool. Chipmunks pop in and out of freshly dug holes. Men and women – sentenced to community service for their crimes, wearing neon orange vests – rake leaves in the sleepy calm. They’re pretty efficient at it when the supervisor’s around. But when he goes, they usually lean on their rakes and talk on their phone. Of course I listen as I set up for the day.
“I mean,” says a bright-oranged female low-level danger to society, on her phone, “it’s not like I was drunk or anything. I just didn’t pass the sobriety test. Yeah, they let me go the next morning.” She laughs. “I had no idea where I was…my feet were blistered and I had to do the walk of shame in my party dress…whatever, it’s not so bad.”
Around noon. The criminals have paid their debt to society for one more day. Just after they leave, large Mexican-American families come out for picnics. Abuelas, madres, mijos and mijas set up camp at one of the large picnic tables. The little girls and boys run around while the women set up. I don’t know Spanish well enough to follow along with what is being said, but they laugh big and often and that says enough. Then the women yell at the kids and everybody sits down to eat. After hot dogs and sandwhiches, the kids run around a little more. The women clean up. Spanish. Laughing. The day is now officially hot. Many of the kids – and some of the women – take a siesta under a shade tree. Noticably lower Spanish, laughing, etc. By this time I’m plugging away at the work, just trying to get stuff done until the weather breaks. I breathe heavy, think slower. Soon the siesta ends and the Spanish Laughter is renwed with gusto. The little kids run around in a new world and not a damn thing is wrong with anything. The happiness I hear gives me a little push through the heat. Then – around 4pm – the families pick up and leave.
Late afternoon. The film students replace the Mexican families. They spill out onto the meadow, shoot some footage, congratulate each other after they wrap for the afternoon, then proceed to drink and smoke pot around picnic tables. Half the young people mill about in the shade, the other half in the sun. They are mostly white harmless looking kids, although some ride it out to the edge and sport lip and or nose piercings and neon pink or purple hair – some fishnets, some tattoos. But for the most part, they look like bleached zombies – half awake, half something else – with a little bit of punk attitude but no real punk, more of an acceptance under duress of inherent suburban identification. After drinking and smoking themselves to the level of “Just Right” they waywardly roam about the meadow in two’s or three’s. Their conversation is juevenile, flirtatious – touchy-feely good time talk that may well land one or two of them across that line between heavy pursuasion and possible rape by Late Nite. But while the sun’s still up, they’re just God’s little chil’ren unwinding after living the dream. May they sing We Are Young by Fun for the millionth time.
“Say,” says one of the young filmakers who’d wandered into my work area, “you got a…ga…blah…uh…sinsellll…right? I mean…gee…seh s’one of those kindazzzzzz a for a screwdriver? Huh?”
I don’t lend the fellow a screwdriver because he looks the way a baby does when it wants to stick its finger in an electrical socket. And I don’t want to enter into drunken negotiation to get it back when he was done, and had forgotten it, and would enlist the other good little drunk undead to prowl the meadow to search for it, though it would’ve been fun to watch. So I say no. “S’alright.” He walks off with Universal Acceptance and joins the others. Soon, the whole crew leaves the park in two’s, three’s and pouty, angry one’s as the world spins them further into adulthood.
Evening. Joggers run up the hill and around the meadow. They pitter-patter around me – huffing about, arms swinging, furrowed brows. Then back down the hill. Then again and again. I hear their trainer but for some reason never see him running – like a boss who’s always on the phone. The runners sweat out their workday one lunge at a time, slowing down the clock as they do. They just make noises – there is no talk, no laughter. They all have slight looks of painful worry across their face, as if there’s just too much running left in the evening. I’ve found my third wind, and I’m working away, and start to pity the runners and start to fantasize about whipping the trainer up and down the hill to see how he likes it. But the runners hold their heads forward and down in resignation that they will run all they have to run. Because it is necessary to run. The trainer is a mere instrument of fate. They are fated to run up the hill, around the meadow, down the hill, and to do it again and again. Everyday. The runners suck it up, find the Eye of the Tiger, and take the hill again.
There is a cool and consistent breeze at this time. I’m usually putting the tools away when the coyotes start to howl. These coyotes are not afraid of man. They wander to the edge of the meadow, lazilly trotting in a jerky manner, head swaying left and right. I love coyotes, they are majestic creatures. Sure they’re scavengers, and will also kill your rabbits and chickens and whatever you choose to keep in captivity, but they do that because they have to. Coyotes have to be coyotes. They kill because they need to eat. They run because they need to catch something, or run from larger predators. They don’t choose to run. They don’t choose to kill. They don’t hire cross trainers. I see a loan coyote on the path around the meadow. He stops and is completely still for a brief moment. Then whisps away like smoke back into the hills shortly before the clanking joggers lumber by for the last time.
Sometimes – after I finish working for the day – I have a ride. Sometimes I don’t, and on these nights, I walk the thirty or so minutes down to the entrance of Griffith Park. It’s an easy downhill walk. As I herk and jerk wearilly down, I hear a roar – faint at first but growing louder. It is the eternal traffic of Interstate 5 that runs by the park, reminding me that I am indeed, in a metropolis, that the nature and slow time I have experienced in the day are oddities, here. I-5 tells me I am far from real wilderness.
But I think I-5 is a liar. Because a few minutes later I get off a bus at the corner of Hollywood and Western smack dab in the middle of Jungle Hollyweird.
“THAT IRAQI BLACK MOTHER%#CKER,” shouts a black man to a black Iraqi man I can’t see anywhere, I think no one can, “BEEN FOLLOWING ME AROUND ALL MOTHER%#CKIN’ DAY. THAT’S RIGHT…I KNOW YOU, MOTHER&#$KER. Everybody hears the black man, and walks a step quicker across the street. WHAT THE F#$CK DO YOU WANT, MOTHER$%CKER?” It takes a second for me to realize he’s directing the question to me – just after I realize I am staring at him. Before I answer, however, he sees the invisible black Iraqi again, and resumes his verbal assault upon him and I make my getaway. “Happy birthday,” says a dirty white bearded man spooning some chili into his mouth but most on his chest. His beard looks like a housing tree for beans. His eyes point in two different directions and he monkey chirps “Happy birthday” over and over to anything that moves.
All the voices in the Hollyweird night usually come from a place of general fear and self-hatred that I’ve been very aquainted with a time or two in my life. Generally they are misguided energy emitted off of the deep longing to know love – distorted echoes off the cave walls where the Safety is after our Long Search – funny how our voice makes us run in every other direction than where we want to go. If we were more like coyotes, our voices would only be the half of it – life would be as much about the calls of the other coyotes coming back to us. Then we’d follow the voices through the dark across the mountain, or wait out the darkness until our fellows came to us. “Scavenger” is a horrible ranking for the coyote.
The bums have made camp around the bus stop – hunkering down for their night shift of staring through the fabric of Spacetime. Regular people wait for the next bus, too, staring out into the night with less depth than the Wine and Urine Soaked Mute Prophets – but still only staring.
The other night, I pulled my key chain out of my pocket to open the door to Luis’ place (my friend with whom I am staying). I couldn’t find the right key in the dark. I held the keys up in the light. As they glistened in my hand, I thought, Gee, I have keys again – keys to Luis’ place, keys to Independent Shakespeare Company’s studio and office, keys to gates at Griffith Park, keys to a power station in the park. I had no keys when I left for California, save for the rental car’s key. Now, a week later, so many keys were ready to fill the vacuum of a free and empty pocket. I continued to hold the keys up into the night. They gleamed, as a mysterious voice in the night told me, These keys were destined to for you, Todd. These keys have had they’re eye out for your pocket since you arrived in LA – no, since the time the keys were made.
No, it’s deeper than that, the voice continued, correcting itself. In fact, it was you, Todd, who was fashioned out of Stardust for the specific purpose to lock and unlock with these keys. I know you’re glad for the work, but it is the keys that use you and they won’t be done with you until you lock and unlock a number of times that was etched in stone so long ago in a timeframe you can’t even hope to grasp.
Locking and unlocking – way out here at the End of Man’s Western Trip.