by Patti Rhodes
Coming home this night, I finally saw the classical pianist that has been a disembodied auditory mystery for five years, the music coming from an upper-level apartment across the street. I followed the sound this time to the corner apartment on the top floor where the curtains were only half drawn and I could see an older Asian man with glasses playing. He seems to only play at night when the neighborhood is quiet and with the window always open. I suppose that a performer always wants an audience no matter how small. I stood in the street beneath the towering clutch of hunched palm trees and watched and listened until I felt self-conscious.
Palm trees look sad to me sometimes. At least the tall ones do. They bob and rock back and forth in the wind, their shaggy tattered mop tops. I have always wondered how long they have been in the spot they are in, who put them there, and if they still want to be there. To me, they look as rooted in strength as the Bradbury building. I was shocked at the palm trees I saw as I flew into Los Angeles for the first time eleven years ago this year on the visit that would determine if I moved to L.A. or New York City from the Midwest. They were weathered and brown. I expected the palm trees from the postcard. The ones with the bright green leaves, the tall, cocked, tunnel of hope you see the restored ‘67 Mustang driving through to a beach blanket hop. I have read that it is hard to age a palm tree, some growing 1 inch in a year, some growing 3 feet in that same time frame. Somehow this ambiguity parallels a portion of this city’s population, and also its mysterious transplants and facades.
On this visit, in an old, borrowed car armed with a Super 8 camera and sound recording equipment, I found my way to Al’s Bar to shoot some footage of Texas Terri and the Stiff Ones and see a set from Texacala Jones. I wondered whom I would be standing next to in the audience. I was elated at the fact that I could get a little Los Angeles punk history in this first visit, as I had always loved the music of this city. Just the right amount of roots and trash and an eclectic historical palate, the images of the 60s Sunset Strip to the late 70’s punk and the 80s trash renaissance flashed in my fantasy. How could I ever really know what any of that was like? I snickered at my giddiness but it truly smelled different, the concrete seemed more traveled, I felt I was a long way from home and needed to be.
There they were again. There were palm trees downtown? Near Skid Row? I thought they only lived in Beverly Hills. I was resisting but at times I wondered if the icon of this landscape had ever suffered from this stereotype I was perpetuating. I had to touch one. I did it at night so no one would see me. I touched one. It was rough and spiky, shedding, and a brilliant texture. Not as smooth and easy as the birch and pine I was used to. And it had staples in it and bits of paint from its upholding and support of culture like the telephone poles on college campuses back home. It would seem to me that big city trees would hold a deeper history, especially that of this seemingly mysterious, funny, dark metropolis.
As I come upon a new decade in Los Angeles, I think about the last decade and how it has finally become the past. There have been poignant moments, the realization of a landscape that encompasses all of my dreams, and geography that boasts health and wellness and poverty for the weak, mercilessly. And then there is the strong. I see them on the streets, under their big money or little money and I wonder how long they have been here and if they feel the same way about their adopted or native home.
Back in Minneapolis, it was OK to meander, to have three jobs and be in three bands and not date often and eat pizza every other day and live in a house with five smelly punks. I listened hard to the music’s history there, I supported its new, future history and found like-minded people to give rides home to after a night of ingesting cigarette smoke thick as pea soup and getting drunk by osmosis.
Now in Los Angeles, by some miracle, I turned 30. This was a miracle because I was of the mind that time had stood still for a while as grad school consumed me. I lost my identity for a while as I built a new one. The week I turned 30 I had no job, my car had literally fallen apart on a steep canyon road and as I walked to the corner store to call for help, I thought about this town and what it would ever do for me. I couldn’t come up with a single thing. When I was standing in the (theoretical) Los Angeles “cold” waiting for the tow, I said it in my head over and over: “Someday this town will mean something to me again.“ The tow truck came like a blessing, but not a moment too soon, as my dark luck continued, the tow truck driver’s foot was run over by a large, expensive, and sleek, black truck.
It’s hard to tell if I’ll be here forever. What landscape will inspire, which will deter? Los Angeles becomes urgent again for me as this new decade begins, garnering successes with an equal amount of failures. Maybe dreams become hype and then are recreated, over and over again.
Patti Rhodes is a filmmaker and writer living in Los Angeles, CA. Contact Patti at firstname.lastname@example.org
See a companion photoblog of Some Things Seen and Overheard at http://pattirhodes.tumblr.com