Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Month: February, 2016

Infinite City: A Brief History of Gorgon’s Alley

[The below is a selection pulled from the Macmilliamous-McGrood history textbook. It is featured in courses taught from 6th to 8th grade levels across all citywide public schools, and has been of much debate lately in the news.]

“Stretching for almost half the inner cheek of Hemlock Bay, across six different city wards, sits the city’s oldest, most significant piece of real estate: Gorgon’s Alley. For almost twenty miles the ever-expanding bay-front property holds some of the most historic buildings, as well as headquarters for most of the legacy companies that established the city as a center of commerce for the nation: Rindgegessen Shipping, Sangrar Corp., Wesstersson, Fratolish&Hiang&Perpeshk, Dudoso Companies, to name a few. More importantly, it represents for many dwellers the essence of the city.

The origins of Gorgon’s Alley started at the delta of the Mond where the river splits into three tributaries that pour out to the bay. It was in the fertile banks between these three streams that Gorgon’s Alley begins. Originally a location for the indigenous Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway tribes-people gathered seasonally for ritual dances, games, and political meetings, the land was mostly underutilized until the infamous German pirates Ludwig von Küssenass and Hans-Johanns Schmudieb sailed through the inlet of Hemlock Bay and laid anchor at the mouth of the Mond River.

Fleeing from the Spaniards fresh on their tails, the legend proceeds that the pirates thought they could lose the armada in the bay. Because of the mist that falls from nearby King Thelonious Mountains and masks the bay, it provides the perfect concealment for nefarious sea-fairing vessels. As the pirates and their crew sailed across the black bay, they came upon the opening of the river. At first, because of the thick vegetation and size of the three off-shooting streams, the two swashbucklers thought they had found three distinct rivers, not one. They planned to lose the armada by sailing up one of the three—seeing as their boat was crafted for sailing across great distances, through shallow and deep waters.

When they learned, however, that the tributaries were all part of one great river, bottle-necking at the point of the dovetail, they decided to use this knowledge to their advantage. They sailed back out of the river and lured three of the Spanish ships into the northern leg where they then managed to destroy the leading vessel and trap the other two. They then sailed around and fired at will upon the other ships, defenseless as they did not have rear cannons, or the ability to turn their ships around. In hindsight, the Spaniards acknowledged it was a mistake to follow the pirates up the river. It is known to them as: ‘El Error Náutico.’

With the utter destruction of three vessels in a matter of a few hours, and the other man-o-wars being too large to traverse the river—risking a broach—the armada retreated from the bay, leaving the pirates with their victory. Fearing the Spanish were waiting to ambush them the moment they fled, though, the Germans decided to lay anchor and camp on (what is now) North Eye island.From that point forward marked the beginning of European involvement, and the founding of the city.

[Fun Fact Attack! Originally referred to as ‘Norden Ei,’ and ‘Suden Ei’ by the German pirate/explorers, ‘Ei’ in German means ‘egg.’ Phonetically, though, the word ‘Ei’ sounds like the English: ‘eye,’ which is where we get the names today.]

It was not long after settling both North and South Eye islands that the leaders von Küssenass and Schmudieb were able to turn the small merchant port into a bustling city of commerce —free from the long reach of royal arms in Europe—starting at the heart of the Mund’s delta, and slowly sprawling out from there.

[Fun Fact Attack! Fans of Greek myth, the pirates/explorer/entrepreneurs nicknamed the tributaries: Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa: hence ‘Gorgon’s Alley.’]”

[Palpable] Poetry

(Part One: Palpable [Poetry])

I found myself downtown on a job for my current gig. After work, I decided to visit the postmodern gleaming glass and cement megalith. I was interested to reconnect with the landmark. Over time it began to mystify my mind’s recollections, and I found myself looking back with a sense of kinship rather than disdain. What lied in that atrium moved me, for whatever reasons, and allowed me to connect with the inanimate—much like I have before with pieces of art.

As I walked up the steps via Figueroa towards one of the hotel’s few entrances, I was what can only be described as both nervous and curious to see what the atrium would reveal to me this time around—some five years removed now. What changed? What remained?

The stairs took me to the second level, and when I entered the atrium it exposed itself to me much as it had many times before. It looked almost untouched. The time-spatial oddities that once gave me a conscious dread, now felt quite welcomed. The fact that it was stuck in time was reassuring in a sense. The edifice provided an excuse to pretend I had slipped the realms of the present and fell back into that nebulous dreamscape called “the past.” Continuing around the pedestrian causeway I witnessed the same gift shop that had been there years before still remained, complete with the identical Coca-Cola clock and cardboard bikini model holding a six-pack of Corona. Strange pleasure was being extracted from surroundings, akin to visiting former pals. On the third level, I walked from red to blue to yellow to green sections—same color palettes; same well-nigh indistinguishables—passing many of the same fronts I had walked by years ago: the workout center, the Chinese spa, the hair salon (the same posters of models with hairstyles from when Desert Storm was still a thing), the tour guide offices that weren’t for traveling to Japan, but for Japanese vacationers to visit parts of southern California. In the red (or blue, or yellow, or green) restaurant corner were all my old friends (“Oh how I thought you’d gone. But here you all are!”): the Panda Hut, Cap’n Lee’s Seafood, The Healthy Winner, and even the Olive Branch falafel joint. I was certain they would have all vanished, replaced by some other generic storefront, but there they were. They had managed to survive somehow.

It filled me we a peculiar joy. Perhaps I was truly able to transcend time and find myself back in my own history? If so, where was I then? And what explained these new spaces: a tax lawyer’s office, an accounting firm? How was it that the man-made “lake” (once parched) now flowed beautifully with crystal water amidst this historic Californian drought? It was all very much the same, but different.

passed a Korean restaurant that appeared new. A normally encouraging site, but something was off. It shouldn’t have been there. Something used to exist in its stead. (It was not until I had returned home and researched some that the Korean restaurant had replaced the Mandarin West—a respectable looking place I never had the heart to visit.) And the more I walked about, the more haunted I became by the realization that not much had changed at all: most of the store fronts still remained vacant. The more I moved around the voluted cement landscape the more I witnessed this mesh of past and present. A woman on her lunch break (or maybe she was staying at the hotel, or had some other background my mind couldn’t think to narrate) kept passing me in the opposite direction at each level. I smiled every time. She nodded in recognition. This repetition called something to the forefront of my mind.

I thought of Frederic Jameson in real-time: “…architectural theory has begun to borrow from narrative analysis… and attempt to see… buildings as virtual narratives or stories… which we as visitors are asked to fulfill and to complete with our own bodies and movements…” So what are you trying to tell me, Westin? I wondered. What stories do you have for me to finish?

A popular sad song moved through the air waves. It was being sang by some kid whose dad was a mutual fund manager and bankrolled his fame–I read somewhere. I wondered about credibility and art and capital. I tried to realize some connection, but only managed to become frustrated and then depressed.

Ideas moved in a maelstrom of my wandering mind, and as I attempted to focus, to solidify they began to obfuscate, and then evaporate into thin air. All these flitting bits of information and knowledge just beyond my grasp. Where do they go? How can I grasp them? These questions ran aplenty by the time I reached the summit of the sixth floor. In many respects it was a representation of a representation of a representation of a concreted contradiction. Mr. Baguette (!) was still there, the portrait still much the same. The owner/manager remained almost fixed it seemed in that location behind the counter with begging eyes. Though this time a different cook stood behind him, staring at his smart phone. I chose to not make eye contact with him.

The closed Japanese Shabu-Barbecue-Sushi Restaurant remained just so. Most of the tables and chairs had been removed, replaced with brand new mattresses still in their plastic wrapping and assortments of lamps and desk chairs. It lost its ghostly qualities, the sadness it used to project was less strong—perhaps it was because I had become acquainted to it, perhaps I was giving up the ghost.

Rounding the last section of the sixth level, I came upon the Subway. A crowd of youngsters huddled in the corner, talking about getting a football game together and throwing around their group’s racial denigration to the point of rendering it useless, a playful sobriquet passed back and forth between friends. They sucked down their fountain drinks and ate cookies. I thought about the clever marketing around the use of “fountain drink” as I stepped up to the counter to order. While I was admiring the wordsmanship, I noticed the Subway now had five beers on tap, and six different bottled choices.

I ordered a beer, and a chocolate-chip cookie—because why not?—and sat down in the same spot I usually seated myself. I need to go on a diet after this, I told myself. The teenage boys continued to talk, and talk loudly in the obligatory tradition teenagers tend to do, the subject switching from music, to people they knew, to social politics of authenticity, then back to football. “What the fuck is a Cam Newton?” one kept saying, much to the enjoyment of the others. I watched the local news talk about the upcoming spectacle of sport: Super Bowl 50. The young man said it again when a photo of the football celebrity appeared. Then that talk died down and shifted into that wonderful cradle of misinformation as they traded anecdotal stories and hearsay, dropping in that meaningless hate word every now and then. The chapter turned on the news as well as the reporter described a flash strike that occurred at a Togo’s in Monterey Park—rolling coverage of workers shouting muted chants and holding signs of their protest in front of the store. I looked at the two workers behind the counter. I did not recognize them from my past, but I knew it didn’t mean anything.

Then I thought of David Harvey: “…leftists reorganize themselves in the same way capital accumulation is reorganized.” I remembered someone once told me in America during the 70s the biggest employers of labor used to be: General Motors, Ford, and US Steel. Now they are: McDonald’s, KFC, and Walmart. I ate my cookie while the words “forego organizing in the workplace for organizing the neighborhood” came out of nowhere. Who said that? The teenagers? My consciousness? Westin, was that you? I turned and looked out to the cement inner-city and tried to comprehend its story some more.

What did it mean: That architecture was now a story? That a building was a city? A city a larger representation of the whole means of production and consumption, an endless cycle of extraction and utilization from life into death, the struggle of existence? That such a system fabricated from the minds of mortals has evolved into something ethereal, beyond the bounds of human law. What did it mean: that the present folds right into the past, and we become subsumed into these fictions our brains create—that memory is fleeting and history fickle? Were any of these related, how?  All these thoughts swirling around me like the ephemera that consumed my life. Everything began to take shape much like a work of poetry. It all complimented each other in a rhythmic fashion, the meanings though left subjective. But there was something to this spinning mirroring of observations and thoughts: history and theory.

As I began to defocus, the clearer it all became. I could finally start to picture a story, but only in that indecipherable state. The only meaning I could gather was from a certain absurdity of this strange dancing balladry. And the more I thought about it along those lines, the more it began to make sense.

So perhaps this is the way to break through the poetry, and arrive at a different narrative completely. Then again, maybe not; but I’ll keep thinking about it, and hope one day the interior affects the exterior again in such a way that the paradigm shifts at least one more time.


Palpable [Poetry]

Some five years ago I was strolling towards a precipice. I was on my last lunch break for my old job. They were laying everyone I knew off in a restructuring strategy. It was going to save the company millions, you see. Millions that would allow the company to go on—for at least some months until it was sold and restructured again (entailing further massive layoffs), only to be rendered defunct a few years after that.

I walked over to the nearby five-tower glass monolith, the Westin Bonaventure, which stood like an onyx power-structure in the Los Angeles cityscape. Something borrowed from the future of a Power Rangers world. Staring at it as I approached, I saw the reflections of the city in its glass face, distorted by its curvature and scope. I witnessed how its material manipulated the images of the outside world projected on it.

I crossed a bridge into the outdoor courtyard, which was a glorified plot of grass with concrete-potted trees surrounding it, and pool. A few people sat outside at the tables of the in-hotel brewery restaurant. I passed them without making eye contact and walked into the atrium of the hotel.

The atrium felt much like an inoperative botanical garden. Dark glass ceilinged the place, pouring shaded light down into the cavity, and I was environed by six levels of honeycombed rock. A giant spiraling nest of cement sprawled out before my eyes, like the city itself, in this inspirational and foreboding fashion. I walked along the outer-portion of the grey-tiled passageway observing the cavity’s innards. Remnants of the lingering recession were still present—an air of tired optimism, or obstinance about the place. Most of the store fronts that lined the balconied walkway were closed. Looking down at the lobby level I saw what was meant to be a man-made “lake” with fully-functional fountains, but instead all that remained was a dry bed of smooth blue, gray, and black rocks.

I felt the odd contradiction of familiarity and strangeness as I rounded the third level. The hotel was suffering from a time-spatiality error. The businesses that remained were in a state of aesthetic paralysis. I passed the single hair salon that sported but one patron. The posters of hair models that skinned the windows outside looked aged–as if someone fleshed out Patrick Nagel’s work. This clinging to the bygone made me a little disheartened.

I kept walking, eventually making it over by the small corner of independent restaurants in the yellow section of the hotel, or was it the red, or blue, or green? I cannot recall. You see each pillared section looks the same from the inside apart from the scantly colored corners. Every time I had visited the hotel, I would have to walk in a circuitous manner until I stumbled upon a familiar location. (Ingenious for commerce, if only there was any to be had.) The restaurants that remained looked like they were on their last days, too. If not today, then soon. Who would come here? I wondered as I walked around. The customers were few. Some were older guests who were overwhelmed by the prospect of venturing out into the great wide metropolis, most were staff either from the hotel or nearby offices like myself. There were perhaps six of us total in the entire hotel there to eat. The word desolation came to mind. Then Detroit. Then suburbia. Then melancholy.

A few years later I recalled the above scene after reading Federic Jameson’s words about the very same hotel: “…[it] aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city…”

Back to the moment: A sad song came on, or maybe it was a happy song that made me sad—I forget which now—and I began to think about the dance the space had between the interior and exterior realities, and then I began to think about how my inner projections might be affecting the outside world, and the external projections affecting me, and I tried to focus on consciousness and understand what it meant in the moment, but instead I was too upset and too hungry to think any further. All I wanted was to sit and eat a sandwich and feel the moment.

So I went to Subway.

I came across the establishment during one of my previous walkabouts through the atrium. Located on the highest level (the sixth level) of the atrium, it just appeared one day, out of the blue—or maybe it was always there and I just forgot about it from my previous trips. Typically, I ignored the sixth level because of its drab nature. It only contained a Pho restaurant and closed storefronts. It hurt to see the failure and potential most evident in that barren space.

One of the closed fronts was a Japanese Shabu Shabu and Barbecue restaurant that had shut its doors before I ever came around—or perhaps it never opened. Maybe the story behind the restaurant is that it was going to open before the Crash, the business owner was very excited about the new venture. The restaurant engrossed about a quarter of the business space on the sixth level, with a capacity to seat over two hundred people at any given time. The restaurant was a hybrid of the best of Japanese cuisine: a section for shabu shabu, teppanyaki tables for the more popular crowds, and a sushi bar. A robust menu that would satisfy any ravenous hotel guest, or city dweller. Waiters and waitresses adorned in traditional kimonos and haoris. An entire replica of feudal Japan, famous sites and battles, tales of moon princesses and further lore all strewn across the lower third of the restaurant’s windowsills. If one travelled the length of the establishment from the green (or blue or yellow or red) side of the sixth level to the blue (or green or red or yellow), the entire ancient history of Japan was on display in the little fitting. All these great possibilities, and endless spectrum of positive futures. It might have been grand. But then the subprime mortgage crises. Then the money dried up. Then the owner never got to realize the dream, and instead took a dive over the nearby 5th St. bridge onto the 110–caused a sixteen-car pileup and seven-hour traffic jam. Or maybe not. Probably not, but that’s where my head was at then: bleak.

The Pho restaurant, Mr. Baguette(!),  which when I first visited used to be the Happy Cow pho spot, was another of the random establishments that appeared on the verge of collapse. It was a chimera of “French” sandwich shop and pho cuisine–meaning one could order an assortment of twelve-inch deli sandwiches on a baguette and/or classic pho bowl, all for unbelievably cheap prices at the same location. The establishment was so clean. I assumed because of the lack of use, and well-maintained care it received from the staff. The owner, or maybe he was just the manager–but the story is stronger if he’s the owner, so–the owner stood alone behind the counter awaiting for someone, anyone to come in and order food. A lone cook stood staring into the nothingness of his pans hanging above his head. I made eye contact with the owner/manager. He smiled. I nodded and kept walking. I felt ashamed, but accounted it to my general mood.

Minutes later I sat with a twelve-inch Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich, chips, and 24.oz soda-pop in front of me. I noticed the Subway was installing a few draft beers, and had some other bottled brands on display. It was a technique to get more customers. I wondered if it would work, or if the establishment was going to go under like everything else. Then I started thinking about the past, and wondering about the future. Slight misery crept into my mind as I took a bite. I turned my attention to one of the two televisions.

The daytime show from one of the broadcast networks was interrupted when a car chase broke out somewhere in Torrence, or maybe it was San Bernardino, I don’t remember anymore. Guy in an SUV was hauling ass through the city streets trying to avoid the cops. He got onto the interstate, then got off. He drove fast up the shoulders, crossed briefly into on-coming traffic, ran a red light or two, but for the most part was a pretty respectable criminal. The nice cashier who made my meal and tried to interest me in a beer instead of soda was emptying the garbage (or sweeping the floor) near the television. He looked up and watched for a little bit with minor excitement. “Rapido, rapido!” he joked, laughing to himself before going back about his business. Not too long after, the SUV made a wrong turn in front of a high school and the police blocked any chance of escape. The SUV then came to a slow, respectable stop. The driver put the car in park and then tried to make like hell out of the scene on foot. I can’t remember if he made it to the school doors and they were locked, or if he never made it past the steps. Irrespective, the cops were on him quick. He dropped to the ground and they jumped on him.

Things could have been worse I supposed. I could have been that guy.

My lunch finished, I walked back to work. I lingered a bit, walking slowly back down each level, passing the empty stores, trying to avoid the eyes, trying not to give any unnecessary hope. I saw a future for them, as I’m sure they saw the same for me. We were mirrors to one another, unable to give the other anything more than themselves.

All that was left for me was to brave my fate. Questions remained as I walked out the doors for what I knew would be the last in a long time. The answers were as likely to be found outside as they were inside.

Dash the Eidolon

[This is a continuation of my piece “Jumping Before the Bulls” which was featured in the Cigale Literary Magazine]

I found myself back in the Greenbelt, sitting atop the rocks watching the water pass. Melissa was there, too. Her lovely legs, starting to turn pink from the sun, sat in the creek and we watched as the flow washed over them. It was summer suddenly without the mugging heat. I put my hand in the water and tried splashing some on my body but felt no sensation. Melissa laughed. “How did I get back?” I asked. She simply smiled and arched her back exposing her face fully to the sun. She glowed with all the effulgence of glass in sunlight. Then I turned because someone was calling my name. I was in the backyard. Mother and I sat at the iron table. The light bounced from its painted skin and shined us in the whiteness. The sweet tea sat in its luminous glass dispenser. The amber drink was half filled with slices of neon lemons and tiger oranges. Mother was in her floral summer attire. I was in my plus-fours and pullover with matching socks, though I had pushed them down to account for the heat. Only again there was no oppressive humidity. No sensation of the real. Then I heard my name called again. Corn was waving me to come play with him and Imogene on Old Oak. “I’m too big,” I reminded them. A strong wind blew and clouds started rolling over the sky. Mother said something but I did not hear. Then I spotted Melissa. She was wearing that same aqua dress she wore the night of the party, the one I teased her looked like patinated bronze. She made her way to me. My heart picked up speed. Just before me she went to her knees and placed her hands on my legs. I looked to Mother, but she seemed not to mind. Then I looked back to Melissa. She smiled: “I don’t mean to disrupt this salutary moment, but you need to wake up. Now.” Why?

Slam! The bulls charged the car swinging their mean sticks, grabbing at us and screaming in the splenetic fashion. Packie lifted his head at the most inopportune moment and was cracked in the face. He grabbed his head with his meaty hands. His mouth parted to make sound but nothing interrupted the night. The bull that struck him turned him on his side and began striking his ribs. I watched in fright as Packie, half dazed, half angry, tried to grab the bull, or raise his hand in a muted cry for mercy, but he was met only with malice. The bull struck his hand down, easily breaking fingers, and called another over to join in the violence, swinging down blows and kicking Packie towards the opening. Mack grabbed me: “Get! Get!” His large dark hand on my shirt, simultaneously propelling me upward and outward. Bo was right behind, struggling to place his shirt on. Ray was in strife with the third bull. When we hit the gravel outside I was able to recognize the severity of the moment. Two more bulls were waiting for us, blowing whistles and calling for their reinforcements. “Go!” Mack screamed. Still holding me tightly, we rushed them, Bo somewhere to my rear. The bulls charged. Before reaching the locus of aggression, Mack released me and led his thick body into one of the bulls, who landed a swing. The bull exhaled an: “Oof!” before being propelled to the ground, striking his head against the nearby rail.

I was not as fortunate with the other, however, who must have had more experience. Covering my head and face, running forward towards emancipation, the senior bull side-stepped me and grabbed hold of my vestiture. Unable to break free, I looked at the bull’s face. His physiognomy bared the most blithe attitude for my present condition, and I knew there would be no parley. Forces were moving too swiftly, neither of us could stop this conflict. So he laid into me with all the hatred his belly could muster. My head, shoulder, arms, ribs, leg, hip all took on what felt like simultaneous blows. In return, I grabbed ahold of his collar, and we began to spin. Even in our dance, the bull managed to deliver several violent kisses to my person. I tried to defend myself, but my mind was overrun between the decision to return the brutality or protect myself. All I could manage was to keep our momentum going with the hopes that it would loosen me some so I might break free from his vicious grip and I could then flee. A few more blows to my body, and the word “jackanapes” was thrown around, before some grace came in the form of dear, sweet Bo. He grabbed the bull and with shock in his own eyes struck the brute with a large rock–from where I still do not know. The first landed on the bull’s brow, but not with enough force to release me. “Hit him again!” I must have said because the next I knew Bo had the bull like I was being held, and he was striking the bull in the face repeatedly. By the third or fourth blow, the bull had released me and was trying to retaliate, but Bo had him and would not yield. Again and again he hit that bull in the face until the white was gone, replaced by the gored red. For the briefest of moments, I thought of Mother and her cobbler. Then Mack grabbed me again and said: “We gotta go!” I looked behind and more bulls were coming our way. Bo dropped my attacker and the rock and started behind us. The three of us ran with all the haste we could give.

The train yard is not like a labyrinth, but a catacomb. The moon breaks through the thin veil of clouds in the night and creates a gothic palette of blue. The cars resemble ancient sepulchers. Moonlight passes through the slits creating the sensation of being entombed. Bulls travel through like demons waiting to carry the living to the underworld. It is a chthonic realm in the real world.

After some time we had managed to double back to our original train to see if we could help the others. They had Packie tied up and leaned against it. The other bulls had Ray held up. We couldn’t hear all too clearly, but it seemed obvious they were going to hold him responsible for what Bo and Mack had done to their own. There were six of them total now, bludgeons gleaming in the night’s glow from fresh drifter blood. Ray pleaded for clemency. “Please, please,” he cried over and over. “Please, please, please.” He shook his head, and though I could not see his face, I knew there were tears. Mack watched with me. Bo hid behind us and could not bare to witness the man’s fate. He instead held back his own lacrimal moment. Ray pleaded one more time before the lead bull interrupted. “Shut your mouth. I’m sick of hearin’ those purple lips flappin’.” And then he stripped the humanity from Ray with one epithet. Mack gripped me upon its utterance. This big, dark figure with all the equanimous talent of a great general was pierced and broken by the force of this one word. Ray fell apart from the declaration like a spell had been cast upon him. It had stripped him of his voice. And though I was too far, I saw the fear in his perspiring face and wide-staring eyes. I shared it, too. But as I watched the bulls begin to cudgel poor Ray I realized our fates were intertwined yet distinctly separate, and I began to hate myself anew.

Mack and I watched until there was no point and the three of us made our way away from the crime. I was in a lapsed state of mind, some kind of intellectual Purgatory. All I managed was to move along with Bo and Mack. I heard the grinding of gravel beneath our feet, and Bo’s muffled tears. “We should move into the field,” I think I mentioned to our small penurious cadre. It seemed the right thing to suggest. It helped, I felt.

Mack slammed me up against the nearby car. “Why wasn’t you watching? Why?” My shirt was entwined with his two large fists. They smelled a mixture of sweat and steel and other earthen material. He stared me down with the most intense animus.

“I… I’m sorry. I fell asleep… I’m sorry,” was all I managed to say. I was too terrified to utter more. But I wanted to. Lord as my witness. I wanted to find the ancient words that had power to reverse time and correct this, everything. But all I could manage were the worthless ones that only admitted my regret.

I watched Mack storm off ahead. Bo stood for a moment, and then trailed after him.

Oh Mack, I thought, forgive me. I was only dreaming.