(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.
I 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.