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.