Brother Michael

Sunday morning I woke from melatonin dreams about a very specific black and white photograph I had once seen of a street urchin sitting in front of a gas station on Van Nuys Blvd in 1972.  Why that photo? No idea. Perhaps it was the meaning I projected on to it, but who understands the muddy river of the subconscious?

Later, in the afternoon, we took the dogs to Mt. Washington for a hike of the secret staircases. Descending a canyon, we ran into Michael doing concrete work in front of his bungalow, which was cantilevered into the hillside, obscured by shrubbery which enclosed it like a kindling pile.

Much of Mt. Washington is Small House Maximalist.  As the terrain limits expansion of existing bungalows an ethos of idiosyncratic beautification prevails in favor of square footage.   (*not Michael’s house)

In this spirit, Michael was engaged in his decades long labor of love, turning his parcel into as he put it, the Watts Towers of Landscaping.

Like Simon Rodia, he used only found materials. His work spilled down into the recesses of the hillside, embedded within the shrubbery, out of view, making any public recognition a bit of a long shot.

He bought his house in 1968, for $16,000.  He was 22.

In the fifty years of his residency he’d had three wives. On Saturday he walked his daughter down the aisle to Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, an anthem of the year of her birth.

There was a message he wished to convey.  He asked us if our parents were “still in their bodies”. They are. He wanted us to call them immediately to thank them for sharing that moment in space and time when they created us, without which neither of us would be here to grace Michael’s day.

He wanted us to know our meeting was a Buddhist gift.

Michael was a product of a high trust society: 50 years perched in the same canyon amongst the artistic set, a delightful aerie obtained with little effort, had given him a benevolent disposition toward his fellow man.

Also, he and his neighbors were but a careless tiki torch and a Santa Ana breeze from disaster.

This was the photo I remembered. In my dream the boy in the picture, with the Sears catalog pants and sack of belongings at his feet, came to a fatherless and unfortunate end.

I hope his life turned out like Michael’s. My Sunday wish was he didn’t fall through the seams.

7 thoughts on “Brother Michael”

  1. You may not be the most popular writer in the country, but dammit if I’m not glad I found your work.

    I don’t know who I’d compare you to, but your observations about your fellow man are as keen as it gets.

    1. Thank you for your kind acknowledgment. One beams stuff out into the cyber world, and people return radio signals from near and far. One finds commonality with strangers. Always a pleasure.

  2. I agree entirely with Scott VanHorne. Wonderful writing here.

    “He asked us if our parents were “still in their bodies”.”

    I’m reminded of the Woody Allen quote when someone asked if he had ever had an out-of-body experience. He replied that he was hardly ever in his body.

  3. With affinity for secret staircases, and you may already be aware, West Silverlake conceals some of the oldest, least unused, forgotten and abandoned of these pathways in a city that once depended on them daily more than automobiles. The “Semi-Tropical Spiritualists’ Tract” contains numerous hidden pathways dating back to the ‘teens & 1920’s, many that provided connection with the nearby Red Car Lines in adjoining Edendale, and to neighbors on adjacent streets. The Spiritualists’ Tract is also still home to another mostly-forgotten landmark, the Paul Landacre Cabin, once central to much witty and artistic discussion with Hollywood and artistic elites. Today a ghostly shell of an unfulfilled artistic era, still hanging on to its rusty mail box, when such an artifact should have been snatched decades ago. In the distance, one can imagine the Red Cars clatter by on the defunct Corralitas Line…

    1. Ahoy, Chip!
      Funny you should mention the Corallitos Red Car line pathway. We discovered that online while looking for hidden staircases to climb. One thing the research didn’t mention was the Spiritualists Tract. Or the connection of the staircases to trolley stops. That makes perfect sense for the 1920’s.

      Wonder how many people today know Echo Park was once the center of Christian revivalism in the Western United States? That Aimee Semple McPherson performed Baptisms there by the thousands?

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