The proper term is “government facility,” but it feels like an old university most of the time. Asbestos in the ceilings, paint fresh from 1979. Fluorescent lighting, emergency signage, old handset telephones on the wall in every floor. My role here, in a place where the best of the best tackle noble, courageous goals—the taking of soil samples from Mars and the landing of spacecrafts on comets—is comparatively small. The comforting routine of support, set-up, clean-up; prepare, take care.
In a photograph Robert Adams took northeast of Riverside, California, in 1982, serpentine paths lead toward the horizon line; it’s not easy to discern whether these are creeks, dirt trails, or roads. Human presence takes the form of wooden poles carrying electric wires, which stride diagonally from the bottom left of the composition toward the distance at right. Scrubby brush covers the low hill that spreads out beneath Adams’s camera, a few trees poke up disconsolately here and there, and a larger hill dominates the right-hand edge of the picture. In the distance is the radiance of an invisible sun, an onrushing whiteness that presses toward the camera and blots out the landscape’s details.
Usually 4 p.m. glares on my windshield as I head to the Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park. I am 75 miles per hour on the 134, maybe more. Others fly by me, impatient. The temptation to catch up to them is strong, as always. But I stay below the eighties, as though the seventies are the right glide, on Lenny Kravitz tunes. At the exit, flower vendors on foot wave roses and chrysanthemums. Their nearest competition is the flower shop at the gate, less than a mile away. You’d think they’d sell for bargain. But I buy a bunch or two anyway. It beats walking to the shop, and ringing for someone to come out when you’re ready to pay.
Travis Meinolf, Fabric panels made for with Kai Althoff, Whitney Biennial, 2012
If you need a blanket, Travis Meinolf, the self-appointed Action Weaver, will give you one. For free. And it won’t be a common fleece or wool number. It will look like folk art. It could be made by the artist or by many hands, and perhaps strung together from woven cloths of varying stripes, colors, and sizes. These free hand-woven blankets are a component of the artist’s ongoing project Blanket Offer, part of the artist’s grand mission to bring weaving to the masses.
Three days of dirty weather and everyone saw it on their way home from work. It was dumped onto the Silver Strand State Beach parking lot— the keel naked and scabbed with barnacles, the mast canted. Someone said the park maintenance people must have hauled it up out of the surf. It looked like a forklift had punched two holes in the hull.
Townieis a book about fighting and writing. But it’s mostly about fighting: wanting to fight, learning to fight, training to fight, getting in fights. In the end, it’s about learning not to fight. (I’m not giving much away: a whole lot happens in the middle, and the final scene in which Dubus peels himself away from the urge to fight is lovely and stirring.)
Andre Dubus III spends his boyhood getting beat up a lot. Still scrawny at fourteen, he tells himself:
“I don’t care if you get your face beat in, I don’t care if you get kicked in the head or stabbed or even shot, I will never allow you not to fight back ever again. You hear me?”
Where does Los Angeles begin and end? A response to that question stammers when faced with the infamous concrete sprawl of the city without a center. The hazy boundaries of the metropolis would seem to resist any effort at a comprehensive and coherent portrayal in novel form.
The wide maze of highways, the omnipresent gloss of billboards, the horizontal swarm of neighborhoods and business parks and shopping centers that resemble each other, and the army of cameras transforming the city into a vast stage set have led writers to describe LA as a projection of surfaces that blurs reality and fantasy. The long-established connection of LA to the film and television industry makes it easy for visitors to view the hybrid architectures of the city as mere props and the multicultural residents as typecast actors and actresses always “in character.” In Nathanael West’s seminal LA novel, The Day of the Locust, the protagonist Tod Hackett sees “people of a different type” standing apart from a passing crowd costumed in the latest fashions. About these marginalized onlookers, Hackett understands “very little…except that they had come to California to die.” By “California,” Hackett means southern California, Hollywood land—the living spectacle he aspires to depict in a painting called “The Burning of Los Angeles.” The moribund folks on the sidelines of LA’s trendy masquerade have recently migrated from the midwestern and eastern U.S., lured by the elegance and leisure depicted in movies and advertisements. The American migrants in West’s tale have “eyes filled with hatred,” an expression likely owing to the disenchanting realization, upon arrival in LA, that most occupants of Hollywood land do not live forever in the glimmering form of an image.
As a longtime collector of vintage American soda bottles, I’d become a bit numb to their charms. The bold funky fonts, the cheeky allure of cartoon mascots and Space Age starbursts etched into the glass – sadly, the very elements that drew me into this odd subset of antiquing had lost their luster. Then I found a cache of old bottles in the California desert.