an essay by Tom Beaver
I would like to acknowledge each and every human soul who has ever considered the phenomenon of urban imperfections and pondered the rare instances of magnificence in the city of Los Angeles. Both of these concepts parallel each other and are in occasional harmony. They co-exist and inform each other whether noticed or ignored.
One extremely effective way to experience cultural rot in an American city of your choice is to take the bus or train (if they are available and/or tolerable). The mind reels at the injustices of a culture in peril while utilizing public transportation and it is difficult to believe that such a hyper-progressive society cannot seem to reverse most sociological inconsistencies with any lasting effects. Such a culture would invariably evoke mixed reviews from surrounding countries. And we certainly do. Our nation has always solicited vivid retorts. Sometimes on battlefields- sometimes closer to home. If you are the boy picking a fight on the playground- you must be prepared to embrace some adversity. And America does resemble that brutish malcontent around the corner/waiting to trip you when you pass with smug indifference to his existence. The United States built its reputation on not embracing guff. This is not to say we haven’t had our knees knocked out from under us- but it is rare on our timeline. Over the last century and a half we specialize in taking the wind out of everyone else’s sails- in the name of nationalism, patriotism, and other “isms” that have little meaning beyond organizing crazed mobs and executing countless innocents.
Nonetheless- this is our landscape- and I think it’s fair to say that few among us are strangers to melancholy. Who walks this city with no sadness? Who does not wonder if things could be different? Who does not say, “Is it possible to alleviate some of these tragedies?” Which of us does not ache at the sight of humanity in distress- whether for a brief moment- or to the point of interrupted sleep? There are no undisputed certainties in this life with the exception of a mysterious birth and an unwelcome death. So where do we look for guidance? Who leads us to reason? Who do we follow (our governing bodies are in ruin- indeed- most of our institutions are defunct and/or dying out)? Who is enlightened? In this time? Who among us is AWARE?
I rode the Metro Rail in Los Angeles yesterday four times and many uninvited thoughts would not exit my mind.
The underprivileged riding the Metro Rail (literally/under the streets of the city) pay a dollar and fifty cents for a one way ride. Many of these people do not own cars for obvious reasons (economic, sociological, psychological, geographical/etc.). Above these passengers we have countless automobiles choking the air of Los Angeles with an unrelenting assault of poisons. In the high rise office buildings of downtown the armchair aggressors poke keys and stare into square screens communicating with the planet. Wheeling and dealing. To be sure. And at this exact moment in time, somewhere in this monster Megapolis, there’s a scruffy and stinking homeless man standing at a red light (waiting to cross/in no particular hurry) while a businessman with a briefcase stands beside him (waiting to cross/with an entitled sense of impatience). The one soul not so oblivious to the other. They are mirror images of a cultural twilight. Everyone is everywhere and watching- but not watching- and so everyone is right there- and yet- nowhere.
Of course- there’s a radical imbalance in this imagery. It is almost too Herculean to examine with any degree of intensity/diligence. It boggles the brain. It may be that the apathy permeating North American culture thrives as a direct result of our inability to face the unsatisfactory music? That is to say- the image of the lowest common denominator beside the highest- is somehow invisible to someone incapacitated by denial. The meek look positively strange next to the greedy and the greedy look uncomfortably out of place next to the meek. The irony being- greed creates such images in the first place. A lust for the neverending MORE makes such visuals a reality in everyday life.
This is no longer a secret. It has become universal knowledge that the gargantuan class disparity and racial prejudice (rampant in L.A.) in this country has gone unchecked for too long (perhaps a few hundred years or more?). The territorial blast of corruption in any modern city is made entirely possible by unethical, self-righteous half-wits mired in nepotism and economic bias. The amoral flourish in spite of the majority. The majority will always be mindless, lazy children in the eyes of the moneyed class.
L.A. looks like this in the train stations and at any bus stop all days of the week.
This conditioned acceptance of injustice is no different than the air breathed and re-breathed a million times in L.A. The air is infused with smog and the methodical disease of its populace. The cool indifference carelessly folding over the city in the form of pollution and stretching up to the suffocated palm trees and out to the contaminated ocean.
The pained individuals that lay defeated and pathetic on the underside of Los Angeles are mercilessly divided from those above. They are inaccessible to sunlight and immersed in the shame of their struggle for existence. You can see them scoffing at “proper” society and its immeasurable hypocrisy (the humble recognize evil instantly/the powerful tend to overlook it). Some may argue that these pitiful people are there by natural design. Darwinism. The cruelty of nature? Survival of the fittest (an expression that has come to change shape and meaning- for the “fittest” is now a power crazed hedonist that worships money and crushes anything jeopardizing his entitled path).
It is simply this- I defy any sensitive, intelligent individual to look upon the shocking desperation of an orating ruffian smelling of sour food and dirt- and couple this image with that of a man in an eight-hundred dollar suit barking into a cellular on his way home to his loveless family- this awful display cannot be lost on those who truly see. The juxtaposition is too gut wrenching and it makes the entirety of any landscape seem unstable. One cannot help but think- something is terribly, terribly awry.
These men, women and children (of the cities we built!) live in obscene degradation. They die every day so that others may take their place. And the acceptance of this fact materializes as a shield to the ridiculous apathy in the hearts of supposedly civilized men. How can one not expect this endless hole in the ground where the forgotten live to some day push upward and emit a legion of rabid vengeful hounds that annihilate us all?
Why do we congratulate ourselves for our “What can be done?” mentalities by expending incredible amounts of energy on meaningless activities (not worth naming- we all know what they involve)? We’re brutal in our neglect. Savage in our ignorance. Compassion is simply not marketable. You will hear, “What does it have to do with me?”- a popular response from the armies of the unaffected. Imagine the mental implications! The emotional immaturity of a person who sees himself as exempt from any and all pain inflicted upon his fellow man. Imagine what such a ghoul is capable of in regard to future generations- how this person could damage perspectives. The unborn have apathy and a lack of emotional responsibility waiting to usher them into the world’s grand scheme. How does one stop this? How do you stop a germ? Imagine the very concept of indifference being a virtue and visualize a culture that NURTURES such a mindset. It should not be hard to fathom- we live in such a culture.
But then there is also this.
The viewing of a sophisticated and loyal guide dog for the blind is a rare and delightful event. If you have seen one of these remarkable canines, and the beauty of the experience evaded you, I beg you to take note.
I stood across (on the train) from a guide dog leading a blind Korean woman. The busy brown Collie had a sign on him that said, PLEASE DO NOT PET ME, I’M WORKING. Wonderful! In a city ravaged by high unemployment rates- here was a male animal successfully plying his trade. Sitting directly across from this awesome spectacle was a seemingly homeless African American man with Rite-Aid bags tied around his ankles and a tremendous amount of negative space enveloping him. The stench wafting from the man was unbearable and thus- isolating. A young female walked up and gave this poor soul a dollar. The homeless man’s appreciation was as sincere as it was theatrical. The blind woman seemed to be aware of this activity. I say this because the blind woman was quite sturdy in her physical proximity to the homeless man and charitable girl. This was obviously due to her utter confidence in the guide dog. My peripheral attention went back and forth from the blind woman, the dog, and the homeless man. The black man had been temporarily satiated by a thoughtful girl and the dog was carefully supervising his blind woman. There was a balletic aspect to the connecting of energies. A communion that had a life of its own- independent of pre-meditation. It was sharply stated and unbearably touching to me.
Of this I am certain. If this unchecked and devastating lack of grace in America is not remedied to some degree, if a capacity for self-understanding and self-awareness is not brought back into our culture (a culture of endlessly ravaged nervous systems- constantly under siege), if we cannot meticulously examine that which causes ridiculous disparity and restructure this chapter of human history so overtly concerned with speed , if we continue to revel in the exactitude of our self-worship and our unnatural DISGUST FOR WEAKNESS- the consequences (the Future) will resemble the worst hell any man could possibly conjure in his deepest, darkest imaginative reservoirs.