Once A Marine….

Rebecca, no longer White Eagle

Rebecca, no longer White Eagle

The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with salvaged electrical wires.  He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive.  He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.

After the murder in the favela last year, I kept an eye out for him, but he proved hard to find.

Tonight I finally met him again by the railroad, dragging a cart. He was wearing short-shorts and boots, and had an American flag hanging from his back pocket like a bandana.  From a distance, he looked like the hot chick he had been working toward becoming for some time. With great pins, as the cigar-chomping talent managers of yesteryear would say.  Give us a spin, darling…

We recognized each other right off. “White Eagle”, I called out. “How are you?”

“Rebecca”, she corrected me. “I don’t go by White Eagle anymore.”

On that note, I shift pro-nouns.

She told me she was from Rocky Boy, Montana and was half-Cheyenne, one quarter Lakota, one quarter Irish. She was married, to a woman, for 13 years.  She was in the Marine Corps for 16 years. How and why these chapters in her life overlapped, then ended, she didn’t elaborate, nor did I pry. For now, no longer was she living on the back side of the 405 or in the Narrows but down off Sherman Way on ‘a trail all to herself.’  There was a downside to operating outside the favela. People tried to steal her belongings all the time.

As we spoke, I wondered what Mapplethorpe would do with her face.  It was from the Civil War. It was from Studio 54. It strode the catwalk of history, yet spoke of the ravages of meth. It was carved from onyx.  Self-destruction and great genetics had fought here to a draw.  I longed for Andrew’s Fuji X camera, but had to make do with an iPhone.

She had some kind of falsies inserted into a bra under her shirt.  Trucks pull over for her all the time on Sepulveda.

“Get in,” they order her. She doesn’t do that, she assures me, but they insist.   Then she rolls up her sleeve and shows them her Marine tattoo.

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She doesn’t take money from people, she wanted me to know, and never handouts. She no longer gets checks from the VA, just medical, and earns $50/day off recycling.   She walks ten miles, pulling the cart.  It can be lonely.

As we parted,  I remembered it was Memorial Day. I thanked her for her service.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” she replied.

Goodbye, Eucalyptus

First, we get rid of the trees

First, we get rid of the trees

It had to happen eventually. The carcass of Montgomery Ward on Roscoe Blvd, empty for fifteen years, our weed-sprouted, broken asphalt slice of Detroit-on-the-Pacific,  is about to be transformed into Icon at Panorama, a discount version of The Grove.  Or something with chain stores, anyway.  Sometime in 2019.

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Why it should take so long is a mystery.  For now, the trees, ghostly sentinels from a lost episode of The Walking Dead, have met the chainsaw.

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Trunk-burnt,  twisting from the asphalt toward a merciless sun, defying the death to which they had been consigned by the abandoned schemes of commerce.  A foreshadow of life after people.

Rabbit Holes of Future Passed

Mrs. UpintheValley considers the road not taken.

Mrs. UpintheValley considers the road not taken

What if she went to the Mansion instead of grad school? Maybe she wouldn’t be writing report cards today. Maybe she would be living in Brentwood, surrounded by glass walls and maid service.

I would be out of the picture, of course.  Then again, that might be a mixed blessing.   Surely she would have found a paunchy real estate broker with a receding hairline to keep her in bon-bons and spa treatments. But then she would have to fall in love with him, or convince herself she had.  She would have to bank some time in the dog pile on Hef’s circular bed along the way, which is sort of like going into nursing, an honorable profession in any other context. A fat allowance would have been nice.  Also, never having to make your bed or clean your bathroom.  Or having to wait tables.

Before she was a teacher, Mrs. U was a waitress.  Before that she was a college student who picked her husband, from the across the quad, Jane Austen style. “I choose him,” she said, and drew her bow.

Little did she know.  Good abs and long hair don’t last forever.  Maddeningly, I turned out to be much nicer to her than she anticipated.

After fivesix, …er,  a very brief shacking up period we eloped to Vegas.  And then the roof fell in.

Two of the three worst tragedies which can befall a married couple were upon us like God’s judgement.  In the deep dark Fog of Unfairness there are no candles, no trail of bread crumbs to follow, only a soldier’s honor to be strong for the other, not to let him wallow, not to leave her behind in a slough of despond. Grief and recrimination is a rabbit hole like no other. I have no explanation for why character comes to formation, as opposed to imploding, but this was where I became the man I am today.

Eventually, the sun was shining on our faces again, as though it always had been there, but we had been circulating around the dark side of the moon. Somehow, we still liked each other.  Who knew? It helped we didn’t let go of each other’s hand.

Before she was a college student, Mrs. U had a paper route. She was eleven years old.   The first day she had to deliver the Sunday edition, she collapsed in the middle of a cul de sac in Thousand Oaks, a little girl trapped under a mountain of newsprint.  Eventually neighbors called her father to collect her.   She didn’t ask for help. She sat there, summoning her strength, determined to see it through.

When she swanned out a decade later, the Holly Madison Option was never really something she considered. It wasn’t her nature.  Character is fate.

Here Comes The Firecracker

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“I feel like I’m having a civil war inside my head,” said my Wise Artist pal. “I’m so divided.”  She had a secret she wished to share. Only the day before, she crossed the Rubicon. She re-registered as a Republican so she could cast her ballot for Trump in the upcoming primary.

“I want to light a firecracker under this country.”

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On Sunday morning I was in Watts, at the CicLAvia. In liberal, cosmopolitan Los Angeles, very few white people joined us on the trek.  As a veteran CicLAvian, I found the low attendance disloyal and unpatriotic.

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If one wanted to see the full measure of the economic hollowing out of America, here was the place the Bernie people and the Trump people could agree upon.

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Along the way, I encountered a white man with a broken arm and his hand on a bible, sitting at a table in front of a closed church, nodding significantly at the riders as they went past as though beckoning them toward something.  Of what, I could only guess.

Later that night we were in Pasadena at an awards dinner for Mrs. UpintheValley, hosted by a lovely, gracious woman who lives in the kind of house which ignites bonfires of envy in the hearts of working-class guests from Van Nuys.  And everyone at the table was lovely and gracious and prosperous. And the host mentioned a former student who is now Digital Media Director for Elizabeth Warren, and this elicited giddy approval, for what higher calling could there be? Practically an appointment to the secular Vatican itself.  And wouldn’t it be delightful if Hillary picked Warren as a running mate? Trump has zero chance of winning, after all. For the moment we were all two degrees of separation from the Good People Who Really Matter and didn’t that make the demi-glace on the hanger steak all the tastier?

Then on Monday I am at an industry workshop at AFI, where an actress/writer I’ve known for years, tough and talented, a woman you’ve seen on TV plenty of times, is staging a work-in-progress which included a Donald Trump-esque speech about immigrants.  Afterward, in the notes, people argued whether it was Sarah Palin or Trump himself speaking, then someone said it couldn’t possibly be Palin, because the character was utilizing multi-syllabic words, and thus beyond Palin’s speaking ability. In Los Feliz, people found this observation clever and uproarious. Mirth owned the room.

The next morning I drove to Home Depot in Panorama City to buy a tape measure and there were dozens of men crowding cars in the parking lot, leaning into windows, pleading for day work.

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Later, I took Trixie for her evening constitutional and we passed an Ayn Rand-ian tableau of trucks in my neighborhood filled with scrap metal.

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Around the corner, we encountered this gorgeous example of late post-war American industry, preserved in amber, right down to the whitewalls.  It felt like another signpost. We are nearing the end of something.

The firecrackers are coming.

Honest Man, Union Man, Hungry, Alone

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Call me skeptical of curbside claims. Union man. Honest. Hungry. Looking for work. Ten seconds at a stoplight doesn’t give you a lot to work with. You do a quick read: sober or not?  Do they look you in the eye or not? Does the supplicants appearance match the narrative on the cardboard sign?

Mrs. UpintheValley keeps singles in the console of her car and hands them out to anyone who approaches the window.

I judge.

For years there was a guy who used to work the 405 offramp at Roscoe Blvd., waving an empty gas can.  He was respectably attired, and would point to a nearby station, implying he was a stranded commuter with an empty fuel tank.  He aggressively worked the red light, walking out into the lanes between cars, frowning and gesticulating at those who declined him.

I’ve seen crackhead mothers demand ‘food money’ for their children in front of restaurants, with their shell-shocked children in tow.   I’ve seen people claiming ‘hunger’ spurning fresh food, not leftovers, purchased for them by passerby. I know a reformed heroin addict whose hustle was setting up a card table in front of Home Depot and fraudulently collecting for Hodgkins disease.  Don’t get me started about claims of military service.

Alternately, I have another friend, who lives large in Bronson Canyon, who took a huge loss in the stock market, on margin, costing nearly his entire nest egg.   He recovered, it took years, but in the aftermath he decided to always give to panhandlers. That a person had been reduced to the state of degradation where he would beg in the street, this in of itself was reason for giving.

I’m not so sure. My sense of social order requires a Virtuous Mendicant.  So when I saw this guy last week,  the sun hit his sign just right, and what caught my eye was Teamster Local 831. Here, perhaps, was someone dollar-worthy.   Here’s the exception which proves the rule.   So I reached in my pocket. As I did so, in tandem with my own movements, as though in response to my thought process, he began to pitch forward, slowly, folding from the neck down, one vertebrae at a time, to the waist.

He wasn’t doing yoga.

He sagged over until his knuckles hit the sidewalk.   Then he raised his head slightly, but the effort was too much. His knees buckled and he hung there, in the arms of Morpheus,  his face hidden behind a magnificent mane of homeless hair. He swayed back and forth to an internal ebb/flow only he could feel.

He had cookies stacked on the sidewalk. He had some bills clutched forgetfully in his right hand.  There was nothing material I could offer he didn’t have already.  But I took no pleasure in cynicism so swiftly affirmed.  I would fail to give, and he would sin once more.

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