pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: Throttled

20 June 2016


Los Angeles, California
14 August 2015

The world is burning.

I was out filling the fountain this afternoon--I can't fail the birds; they depend upon that water source--and it was burst-into-flames hot outside. Of course, smoke wound up into the sky from the fires in the San Gabriel Mountains. I listened to my 18-year-old air conditioner chug, and prayed it would hold on just long enough for me to get a replacement installed. I know; I swore I wouldn't be nursing it along again this summer, but all I can say in my defense is 4 months in and out of doctors' offices and 4 hours on the freeway on Saturday to do the necessary for a woman who can't remember how the sentence she is uttering began.

My world is burning.


I've long run my own film camp over the summer. When the kids got out of school, I'd find all kinds of movies that the spouse and I considered "must see," and we'd curl up on the couch several times a week and watch. I'm not much for television--it implies a commitment that I'm rarely willing to make--but I'm a fool for movies. Take me somewhere else for 2 hours? I'm all over it. I know a lot of people who will not go to see a movie by themselves, but for years, solo Saturday afternoon matinees were one of my guiltiest of pleasures.

In later years, when the daughter was in high school, she was released at lunchtime on Fridays and it became our habit to watch something on those lazy, precious afternoons.

The unintended consequence of all this, of course, is that when one of her film professors asks if the class has seen a certain film, she almost invariably has.

Interestingly, she's developed a real interest in film noir and the tables have been turned as she's convinced me to watch films I've largely avoided. So we've watched The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Dark Passage, and The Big Sleep.

There is stuff I refer to as "cough medicine," which has become the family code term for things you know you should watch, but don't because you don't like the taste. That's sort of my take on the classic 40s and 50s noir cinema for reasons both personal and professional, reasons for which I have grounds, and also don't. The death of one of my grandfathers was connected to a fraud case in 1930s L.A. that could have come straight from the typewriter of Raymond Chandler.

But there was one film, truly neo-noir, that I wanted the daughter to see, and that was William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. Weirdly, given the violence and amorality rife in the story, it is one of my favorite films. I saw it alone on a Saturday afternoon in 1985 and felt like I was watching a piece of my life.

(Coincidentally, that church in the movie? I lived right down the street.)

1985 was a weird year. It was my first year as a fully-fledged adult who was navigating her own life at last, even if I was cobbling together survival strategies as I went. Stranger in a stranger land. In Los Angeles, it was the year of fire, flood, freeway shooter and the Night Stalker. By day, I ran the front desk of a college library (that's a story in itself) while in the evening, my friends and I tore up and down the freeways in search of the next concert or club (yes, even back then) while locking the doors and windows every night through a sweltering summer against the serial killer in the backyard. And because I didn't have a car, a lot of my time was spent waiting at bus stops while the prostitutes of Pasadena peddled their wares ten steps away. A knife fight broke out behind me on one of those buses. Afterward, I armed myself with a pipe wrench hidden in the bottom of my bag.

Shoulder pads and pencil skirts. Ronald Reagan and Star Wars (SDI, not the movie). AIDS and holding the hands of friends, heart in throat, as they called for their test results. Mass murder at home and in faraway places.

To live and die and L.A.

I remember emerging from that movie theater exhausted but enthralled, disturbed but energized. I bought the movie soundtrack and blasted it on my Walkman as I ran the streets of Pasadena, South Pas and Alhambra, and rode the bus daily through downtown. I watched out the windows as the sun rose and set on the place I called home that was not my home, actor and bystander at the same time.

The daughter and I finally watched the movie today. And it resonated for all the same reasons, 30 years later. Horrible elections and horrible politicians. Global insanity. Mass murder beyond comprehension. Dirty deeds done dirt cheap by dirty people ad nauseam.

These last weeks I have been throttled by the horror of all of it. Silenced, choking on the daily detritus of a world gone mad. The more I try to put it behind me, the more it finds me, on the freeway, in the papers, in my daily dealings, in the night as it steals my sleep.

I don't want to be silenced. I want to scream.

Which I suppose is what I am doing here as the world burns.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Sometimes there is just no way to write about all the stuff that has taken place of late in a sensible and reasoned manner. It's too overwhelming, and being overwhelmed in that way just stops me in my tracks.
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