‘Tis suburbia, of a more intense sort than any other of the various elsewheres I’ve lived. Yield signs, flags everywhere. But also gardens, hydrangeas, bunnies. And some of the houses are quite lovely. Did I mention the bounce houses? Sarah and I counted no fewer than five such structures within a one-block radius of my sister’s house this afternoon as we returned from lunch. To live this way is to affirm castles on canals in some uprooted, replanted Venice Upon Oyster Bay. Despite reprehensible “Back the Blue” stickers on the backs of pickups and other bones one might pick with the place, why bother? Others have picked them clean, them bones, yet there they remain whether we attend to them or not. As do the seagulls, the waves, the motorboats. A cool breeze tickles behind my ear and down my neck. The wonder of a quiet moment. Thumbing the pages of Frank O’Hara’s collected poems, I happen upon “Autobiographia Literaria.” The poem reminds me of my own beginning, early stanzas equal to my own early sorrow. But with the affirmation of its final stanza, the poem arrives and I arise transformed, accepting both the good and the bad with equanimity.
White roses overgrow a trellis beside the driveway. I admire them from atop my perch on my front stoop as I shelter in place. Look at all the lovely everything, the leafy and flowery manifold Earth, sunlit and glorious, waving in the wind! A softness, a gentleness, enters into one’s manner. A grey tabby that likes to visit now and then sleeps out on my porch. I let it. Dreamboat baby tell all. At some point, though, I plan to grill some hot dogs. In a journal I note down the following: “In an imaginary interview published in his book Revolution for the Hell of It, Abbie Hoffman uses language borrowed from his mentor Abraham Maslow to signal how his own approach and vision differed from those of his contemporaries in the New Left. Movements for change should be built, he says, not on sacrifice, dedication, responsibility, anger, frustration, and guilt, but on fun. ‘When I say fun,’ he tells the interviewer, ‘I mean an experience so intense that you actualize your full potential. You become LIFE. LIFE IS FUN’ (61-62).”
Time to start a garden. Peonies, tulips. Some gardeners plant by projecting forms into space, dressing the Other with squares, lines, and colors. But perhaps we can keep faith with something looser, more profuse. Hyacinths. We definitely want some kale. In the meantime, dig into George McKay’s book Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden. But we also need something practical, a DIY how-to.
A geodesic dome hangs from the double arched ceiling of the vibrant village. A child reaches up and grabs it, takes hold. The arches of the ceiling bounce gently each time she pulls. That was a few days ago. Today it’s azaleas, cottonwoods, dogwoods out and about, about to open up, baby laughing, all of us laughing: “She’s a beauty!” Spring is everywhere, profuse. Dandelions, clovers. Thick green moss. Amazing diffuse diverse sprouts of life.
Let there be a thriving new age of mail art. Or better yet, let us go for walks past joggers and pet owners and motorists and fields of daffodils. The parks fill with lovers young and old, strolling, sitting on benches beside beds of tulips and crocuses, picnicking on the green. Eerie and pleasant coincide.
Now that students have submitted written responses, my days feel crowded with text, words greeting me everywhere I look. Friends entertained Sarah and I last night by suggesting outlandish names for our daughter. Other friends from Chicago sent a beautiful art book modeled upon the Whole Earth Catalog (a publication about which I’ve written at great length, in many ways dear to my heart, expressive of my utopian and eupsychian ambitions), designed by one of their students. Unbuckled is the mail. I walk the neighborhood during magic hour, photographing spider flowers and clematis.
On the train again headed back to London after a lovely time in Cornwall. We toured the hills and fields, dined on regional fare — baps, fish and chips, pasties, clotted cream, cones of Cornish whippy — communed with ducks, geese, crows, and seagulls, not to mention dogs, dogs, all manner of canine, Boscastle is a doglovers’ paradise — plus wildflowers, we mustn’t forget wildflowers, hedgerows dotted with dainty purple foxgloves and daisies, with time set aside Saturday night, after all this Arcadian hiking and lazing about, for a candlelit evening tour of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Among the displays of charms and potions and wishing mirrors, the items that most intrigued me were the colorful Golden Dawn artifacts and the ornate robe worn in rituals performed by Argentum Astratum.
After landing and grabbing a quick lunch at an In-N-Out Burger near LAX, we drop off our bags at our Airbnb, a pretty little poolside cottage a short walk from the Huntington, and begin to tour the city. Everything near and far looks amazing here in Pasadena: the trees, the hills, the restaurants, the architecture. We spend our first evening admiring the flora while walking the grounds beside the Griffith Park Observatory, and peeking in at Skylight Books, where my eye lands upon a new book in the 33 1/3 series on Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker and Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours. Most of this West Coast ground of being hasn’t yet been “languaged” for me, so it’s a bit like “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation” (as Huxley says of his experience with mescaline). On the morning of day two, we drive to Santa Monica, landing for brunch at a somewhat mediocre, overpriced crêperie. After just a few short hours here, one detects firsthand the city’s monstrous antinomies, ones Mike Davis evoked so powerfully more than a quarter of a century ago in his book City of Quartz. Walking through Tongva Park, for instance, I observe homeless men and women sleeping on benches beside lush beds of what I soon learn to identify thanks to an app on my cellphone as Lindheimer’s Beeblossom, American Century Plant, Birds-of-Paradise, Tree Aeonium. Out along the Santa Monica Pier, a middle-aged topless man with glistening skin performs a rendition of “People Are Strange” while photographing himself with a selfie stick. Upon our return to Pasadena, we allow ourselves time to swim in a pool and lay in the sun. The day concludes with a dusky stroll through Bungalow Heaven, our wandering met by twin cosmic giggles: an ostentation of peafowl and an outdoor performance by Top 40 rapper Bryce Vine.
The generator of language produces one’s script. Always and forever a blind spot in one’s thinking, an intuited absent cause. The murmur at the back of one’s throat. Birdsong at a distance, as if at the end of a long tunnel. Images acquire being in the mind’s eye: the cover of an album by the band Yes, but with the letters of the band’s name pulled ‘Google Maps’-style from a database of urban signage. The professor and his audio twin. A woman in the neighborhood who I’ve never met before tours Sarah and I and some friends of ours through her garden with its carnivorous pitcher plants and its handsome wooden torii. Flowers everywhere, sprouts bursting from the soil. Friends come away gifted with helleborus and Japanese knotweed. Afterwards I lumber contentedly along the sidewalk licking a Blue Dream lollipop made by a friend’s poet-friend. The night serenades me with Arthur Russell’s “The Platform On The Ocean.” I then harsh the vibe by descending into the scrambled command lines and subroutines of Gwilly Edmondez’s Trouble Number.
Misery won’t suit us, I decide — not among such beauty. I imagine myself growing plants on the floor of an elevator: a dream, a strange mirage.