“For me, it’s always a detail—a detail that points to a larger thing. It can be text; it can be a quote. Bits of conversation. It’s always a glimpse. I start to imagine what it points to, and that’s when my imagination really goes. I don’t really want to know what the detail points to exactly; I like the mystery.” – Mark Bradford
It’s 8 am and already hot. My dog has to wait on the patio of this coffee shop while I make my order. I tie him to a pole adjacent to this quintessential California couple. They could model for Anthropolgie, I think, how pretty they look and so dewy in the morning. I pet my dog goodbye and overhear their conversation– the highlights of which consist of Joshua Tree and meteors: how they don’t care if either exist anymore. I enter into the shop and place my order. My dog barks. He has anxiety. I love my dog and I understand his barking is just that anxiety expressed. I have that too, only I don’t always express it.
On my way out, I balance my food with my coffee. My dog barks again, in anticipation of seeing me, and this man, the maybe hip seemingly chill model man yells at my dog to shut up, like it’s funny. I move to untie my dog, and very calmly explain, you don’t have to yell, he’s just a dog. To which, the man says, but mothers yell at their children and then they behave. I nicely respond, maybe, but that is a mother talking to her child, not a stranger.
It’s hotter than morning and midday now. I am in downtown LA, walking from the bus to the FedEx place. I have to return a package with a very specific printing label. When I get there, the woman tells me to go to another Fed Ex place. I walk to that place. When I get there, another woman tells me to go to another UPS place. I feel like I might cry. I tell the woman at the FedEx place that it’s hot and I’ve been walking all morning. I also have a computer in my backpack because I was supposed to go and do work today. I am heavy. I tell her, I am upset, but not at her. I just need a moment in the air conditioning. I need a moment to consider the fruitlessness of where I have just been. She allows me to have this moment. I gently thank her and walk to the UPS place.
As soon as I get there, my phone dies.
On my way home, the sun is hot on my skin and I feel emotionally porous. I am so deep inside my neuroses, time elapses and suddenly I’m just at the bus stop.
A large crowd waits and I find shade near a gutted out yet still functioning mall. Things are being sold there, but it’s not suburbia. It’s like people selling plastic dogs and electronics from 2005. After five minutes of waiting, I see a tiny old homeless woman collapsed in a corner wearing a wool jacket.
She could easily be mistaken for a shadow. I don’t know if this is intentional or not. I don’t know if she wants to be left alone to sleep or if she’s strung-out unconscious. I walk over and ask if she is okay. She doesn’t respond. Her nails: yellow and brittle. Her legs: hard and calloused. I ask the man selling electronics if she comes here often. Is this normal? He doesn’t know. He says, there are so many. I understand. I want him to know. I used to work at a homeless shelter– I’m not trying to save anyone, I’m just trying to say to her– I see you. I know you are here, and if you need me to help, I will help.
She doesn’t respond to me. Her stomach is moving, but it’s a strange breathing. I ask him to call someone– she might need medical attention. It’s so hot, I say, reflecting on my own long morning. I wait with him.
Just as we put the call through, the woman slowly wakes up, pulls out a cigarette, and tells us to leave her the hell alone. She is just waiting for the bus. Her extreme gruffness is not funny– but actually, it is sort of funny, given the circumstances and how delicate we are trying to be. We all weirdly smile.
We cancel the ambulance. I am not confident that she is okay, but I also know that she understands the city’s system and this routine much better than me. Sometimes, there is no where else to go. No other numbers to call. You just want to sleep, or you just need to sleep.
I don’t know what it all means or how to help.
I just know that I’m affected. I want to be affected. I want to see and to be seen.
I want us all to be present in this big mess of a city. I want us to care and shake one another. All these details, these observations, like Mark Bradford says, lead to something larger, something bigger– if not in a painting, then in life.
On the bus ride home, I keep giving my seat away to other people, not because that’s what nice people do, but because that’s another type of dialogue that I’m trying to have. It’s not so much about barking or directions or helping, but recognizing one another. Just that simple recognition seems important, seems enough for now, until I figure more out.