Thursday, February 24, 2022

“we’ve each got a mystery inside us”: From Joshua Trees to Everything on a Weekend to LA

I arrived in Los Angeles on Friday. 

It was a strange trip. 

A neighbor’s unfortunate news had kept me up. 

I’d heard the night before. 

Cancer is never a welcome visitor.

She’s friends with one of my oldest, now estranged, friends. And now she’s sick. 

And we’re all feeling it. 

A part of an odd week, a new cold war looming, troop movement outside of Ukraine, great hockey in the Olympics, attempts at diplomacy, threats of strikes and sanctions and on and on. 

Wow, we are all so close… but not quite close. But close, connected, but not quite. 

I thought of all of this Thursday night after getting the news… not sleeping well. 

Par for the course of late. 

It was pouring when we left the house for the subway the next morning at 630 AM, for school and the flights.

Off to escape to Los Angeles, where the teenager, who won’t be a teenager for long, is making her way through freshman year, just as I did three decades prior.

I love the feel of the fresh air when I get out of the plane out West. 

I feel it arriving in Texas, looking at the wide open skies. 

I feel it in LAX, walking out, remembering all those pick ups from friends, Jamesy in a convertible, greeting the skies, thinking of my dad out here, in Long Beach. 

We used to meet out here when I’d fly out West. 

Now it's his granddaughter I visit, hanging out, falling in the love with the crazy road, taking us through holy America. 

Dad was with me the whole time, as were other friends…. Graeber makes cameo in a dream, the Ditchdigger who met me in Hong Kong after my last trip out West to Joshua Tree, five years ago, joins briefly. 

“Can you bring the surrealist manifesto and my red helmet?” the teenager asked earlier in the afternoon before I left. 


We met in Westwood. 

I dropped off the helmet and we chatted away, kept the manifesto in my bag. 

The conversation continues all weekend, with lots of music and beach time, and hikes and on and on, the trajectories of our lives ever shifting. 

Dad’s life took some unexpected turns once I made my way to LA in 1988, just as mine are moving as she finds her footing in studies of surrealism, raves, art, music, cultural studies, music, style, lots of skateboarding and on and on and on. 

Now I’m like my dad, feeling the weight of it all, while the teenager soars. 

Out to Venice Beach, we chat away with Benitoelsalvador, a local artist who loves the new bohemians, one of my old favorite bands, from back home.  The secret is reciprocity, seeing our similarities, he tells me. I just love that band. 

Me too. 

Playing tarot cards on the beach, he sells me one of his pieces. 

We pick the trickster.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, says another of his talismans.

We put the trickster in the bag as good luck.

And make our way to the skate park, chatting with buddies, watching the skaters, taking in the waves and the feeling of the beach, the crazies, the drug users, the scooterers, the characters along the boardwalk. 

So many voices, so many people out, mumbling to themselves. 

Sex workers in the bathrooms.

People selling their goods along the boardwalk. 

The skaters are defying gravity.

Music is thumping.

The mural walls sits on the beach, smells like paint.

We walk to get cheap snacks, listen to musicians, chatting about surrealism, from LA to the world, from Paris to the desert. 

Musicians are playing in the street.

The sushi is delicious. 

The bobsleds careen down the run, a world away, magnificent, the Olympics reminding us all of a cold war making a re run.  

 Casablanca is on tv back in the room, black and white memories, Rick still has a club to run, despite it all, even if there are secret tickets out of town, till we slumber into dreams. 

It's a lot quieter the next morning. 

We greet the waters and beach for breakfast.

I think of my trips with dad. 

First day great. Second good, but a crisis always comes. 

A mood dip.

Dad and I used to drink beer in the parking lots where we stayed. 

Morning in Venice, afternoon driving, we make our way East, through the mixmasters, past the shopping malls in Riverside, past the junk shops on 60 West, through the Yucca Valley on 29 Palms. 

“Our last storefront burnt down,” one man tells me. “We had a copy of the script to Gone with the Wind. Now its gone to history,” he laments, looking ever the tragic figure, among his wares. 

We walk across the street to a store with a sign advertising “band spanking used” stuff. 

The kid finds some desert boots and tapes for almost nothing.

There’s enough time for a quick sunset hike before the sun goes down.  In between the Joshua Trees, jumbo rocks, and cactuses, we walk in a land time forgot, hawks in the distance.

The light is magic, gleaming on the rocks, shining, the sun screaming, falling, light dancing. 

Papers report news of remains of a lost hiker just found.

The teenager stepped on a rock on a rattlesnake last time we were here, spring of 2017.

The fear is still with us, from five years prior. 

We have to deal with that. 

We are all part of the same ecosystem.

John Muir reminds us the Joshua Tree is connected to everything, the sand, the moss, the birds, the wildlife, the skies, the desert, from Venice from Joshua Tree.  Maybe that's enough. 

“When you try to pick out anything by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” says Muir.

The tree of life. 

There is absolutely no use for the Joshua Tree, says Muir. But the wren can land on it.  Providing shelter for birds, the trees are a vital part of the Mojave desert ecosystem. 

None of us are really separate from it. 

On we walk, the sun going down, looking out for snakes, looking for desert flowers, taking in the cactuses, looking at nooks and crannies, the shadows rising, as the sun descends in the distance. 

Go to the Death Valley says one hiker. 

It's completely different. 

We chat about the migrations and trips, places we’ve been, the adventures past, the light shining on the rocks, scrambling, looking out at the distance, the trees, birds, cactuses, the our ever intertwining stories, surrealists from France to Mexico to Los Angeles, interdependent, ever connected and estranged, like the desert extending through times, arbitrary borders rising and falling, climate shifting. 

We hikeSaturday and Sunday, between Arch Rock and Jumbo Rock, walking outside the hiking trails at Belle, through the desert transition zone, greeting the cactus trees in Cholla Cactus Garden. 

Finally, Sunday afternoon, we drive out of the West Entrance station, out to the Yucca Valley for lunch in a cheap Mexican joint, exploring the junk shops, seeing what's what in the remainder bins, wondering if we can make it to the Crash and Ride Cabaret. Second upping is all we need says the teenager.  No need to make it new. Better to reuse, redesign, and re fashion.  The kids today want something different, not banks, not the usual, something new. You see it, deconstructed, re imagining the everyday. 

Back we drive, west of the Yucca Valley and the 29 Palms HIghway, 60 West to Riverside, through the stripmalls and traffic, past the mixmasters, cars, congestion, tunes play all the way. 

“We always have the best time ever, me and my bestie and my bff,” sings Vivian Goldman. “We’re gonna change this mess.”

Bauhaus plays Bowie as Ziggy. 

Berlin gets lost on the meto, lamenting the masquerade.

Belle and Sebastion write about love. 

It's mostly 80’s dance tunes, except for belle and company.

There are new cities, built on the old cities, the layers of Los Angeles.  We talk about the Tank Girl images, what to believe in, our actions and possibilities, ways to live, listen to music, create it, think about what it all means, punk rock utopias, in the desert.   We are still looking at them. 

Sometimes we see them. 

Sometimes we feel them.

On we drive, to the beach. 

A drum circle is forming on the water. People are are dancing, blowing flames,dancing with the skaters, playing drums, the sun going down. 

It's hard to say goodbye. But it's better. There’s a glorious life out there, with dance parties in the desert, along the la river,  I don't want to get in the way of, classes to take, new friends to meet, on and on and on. 

On the 405 South, the phone rings. 

Dad, you didn’t give me the Surrealist Manifesto, says  the teenager, the resolution of the space between dream and reality, is not necessarily an easy one to achieve. 

I can’t believe we forgot it. 

It's in your bag, take a look, I say. 

I put it there first night in Venice. 

Its hard to say goodbye.

Take care buddy. 

Back to LAX, I journey backward, for the 1010 flight back to JFK, dreaming across the continent, via Buffalo, back to winter, layovers, winter cold below, ice pileups, getting lost on my way home, E train, out to Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, 42nd street on my way home. A small paperback accompanies me. 

“I think we’ve each got a mystery inside us,” says Sascha Masha in the last chapter of the young adult novel of the same name by Agnes Borinsky. [Thanks for the tip Dean Spade].  “... our job as people is to respect that mystery.  To give it room to breathe. To feed it.  To take it out for lunch sometimes.  Whatever.  We’re all a part of a big picture.”

 Half asleep I read, looking at the crisp, bright New York City morning, back home to Brooklyn with my trickster from Venice Beach. 


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