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.