Our star, the sun, indifferent to our pains, our hopes, our dreams.
Our star, the sun, indifferent to our pains, our hopes, our dreams.
“Remember, this is a comedy” – Federico Fellini
Last week I re-watched The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman’s 1983 film – based on the book of the same name – about a group of Air Force pilots out in the Mojave who are constantly trying to out-skill one another, some of whom eventually end up as NASA recruits for the very first space program. I remember watching this movie many times with my Dad as a kid, and while showing it to my girlfriend for the first time, it reminded me of all the other movies that I have seen at least a half dozen times in my life – The Godfather, American Beauty, Apocalypse Now, 8-1/2, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Almost Famous, Back to the Future, Lost in Translation, The Breakfast Club, 2046 – and how all of these records of light and sound have shaped me and moved me deeply over the years.
The color palette of The Godfather always stood out in my mind, and I remember watching the film with my Dad during the Holiday season, and how, even if not said directly to me, the actions on screen revealed a little something about the way that love, familial love, is the ultimate social bond. Or, I recall being 10 or 12 and watching Back to the Future and drawing up every little detail of the DeLorean on green over-sized note cards, trying not to miss any minutiae and explaining to my Mother that when I grew up I would have enough money to hire scientists to build a DeLorean for me so that I could travel through time.
One of my very first memories is of being in my parents room with my Grandmother and, either on Turner Classic Movies or on VHS, watching the scene in Gone With the Wind where Atlanta is burning to the ground. I remember countless nights when I would hang out with my cousins and watch all of the latest scary movies, and sometimes even Disney movies, and we would then share ideas and rough storyboard sketches for films that we one day hoped to make. Saving Private Ryan was a big catalyst for our interest in WWII history and culture, and from that interest came our desire to learn about other wars and what became of the men that fought them, and how that generation then shaped the one that we are now a part of. The whole mess of human misery was teased out of a simple love for movies.
When I was in High School, I use to have a very unhealthy anxiety problem that I always seemed to be doing battle with, so some nights I would stay up really late and draw and listen to music, and at around 4 in the morning I would love to put on Breakfast at Tiffany’s because the simple grace of Audrey Hepburn would always seem to put me at ease. A few years before this, I remember my dad purchasing a copy of Apocalypse Now, and – this was right around the time when every teen seems to be big on Zeppelin, Floyd, Jimi, The Doors, and The Who – being blown away by the artistry summoned in order to capture the mood of the jungle and the war, and the smallness of one mans fight against a larger and much more pervasive, almost eternal, evil that seemed to exist at the edges of one’s vision, just over the horizon, and outside the world of logic and reason.
I remember watching Lost In Translation for the first time and being absolutely and madly in love with all of the little phrases that Sophia Coppola had composed within her scenes. The questions that Charlotte was asking Bob – “Does it get easier?” – were important not just in the context of the film, but also for organizing the increasing messiness of our lives. The daily heartbreaks were never going to be just a passing thing, even then I knew it, and how much more do I know now.
Watching David Lynch with my brothers, or Across the Universe with my Girlfriend – a film that belongs on the above list because I’ve seen it more than a dozen times – or even watching 500 Days of Summer and Step Brothers back to back on lonely Saturdays when I lived in Tucson, all of these little parts of life pop in and out of focus every now and then.
Then sometimes I forget. I’ll be walking down a street, or driving down a road, and I’ll open a door, or take a turn, and suddenly the past comes rushing back to greet me like an old friend, and many times I can clearly remember my past self telling my future self to remember the moment. And I don’t, and I didn’t.
Cities change, neighborhoods change, friends wander in and out of your life, families change, people grow and move. Everything is in flux and everyone is going about their own business and that’s ok. There is no imperative to be stuck in any one particular place in time because we are all subject to time’s ebbs and flows.
I can always go back to my parents house, sit on their couch, in a room that I’m familiar with, and go through their movie library, or if not, talk to them about something from Latin America or Europe that they’ve watched recently on Netflix and maybe watch it myself, and then kick back and disappear for a little bit.
I recently re-discovered Videotheque in South Pasadena, and have started to visit it more frequently. A small and careful care for the art of sight and feeling is something that I’m trying to cultivate in this modern moment.
There is a place,
beneath the rain,
where red wild flowers grow
It is a scheme,
far from the scenes,
of shore breaks some nights ago
We never slept,
the feeling passed,
lost at the end of a decline
The letter sent,
to the address that you left behind
In a far northern space,
drips slowly off the sun
Find the time to say,
thank you very much for the fun
The ability to store and recreate the impressions garnered from moments flying by throughout the day is an exercise in imperfect memory. The inability to create new memories has been a common occurrence for a long long time.
I ride into Santa Barbara around 10 pm and make my way downtown, toward the Old Hotel. The night is cool, and I can feel the salt in the air tingeing my nostrils. I park on a back street, unpack my things, and make my way through the lot toward the rear entrance.
The interior of the hotel is bright and elegant, like a well put together old photograph of a modernist era Parisian café. Over the speakers, I hear a piano rendition of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. The girl tending the lobby counter is pleasant and has a pretty round face. Her medium length blonde hair is tied back into a ponytail with a dark blue ribbon, and as I approach the counter her face perks up, like a trained actor ready to deliver her lines.
“Welcome to the Hotel Santa Barbara, how are you tonight?”
“I’m doing great, thanks. A little chilly outside. It’s been a long day.”
“Well, we’re here to serve you. How can I help you? Do you have a reservation with us, or if not, would like to book a room for the night? ”
“I actually already have something booked.”
“Oh, excellent. Let’s find you in the computer. Last name?”
“Vega, first name Sean”
I pull out my phone, open up my e-mail, and find the appropriate booking information. The girl asks for my credit card and ID, and after we go through the de facto motions of exchanging the necessary information, she asks, “will you be expecting anyone tonight? Or, is it just you?”
“Just me,” I say.
“Ok, sure thing, just sign here.”
She hands me two key cards in a paper sleeve, and I thank her.
“If you need anything else, I’ll be here all night. Well,” she pauses, thinking over what she just said, “I won’t be, but the front desk will be open, and someone will be here.”
I smile as she says this.
I take the elevator up to the third floor with an Argentine couple who are just making their way back in from a long day outside. Apparently this is their first time in the States, and they are travelling all the way up the West Coast before hopping over to Chicago and then New York.
“Take care,” I tell them, “and good luck with everything.” I step out of the elevator and make my down the hall.
Once in my room, I run a bath and strip down. I go over my checklist for the next few hours: cold shower, shave, and then a walk down the street to my favorite bar.
The water is warm, and I have a glass of scotch and soda on the floor outside the tub. I wonder how many moments like this exist in a year. Times when you are perfectly alone, and perfectly still, and even though the world outside exists in all of its glorious mess, there is still a calm and present center in your exclusionary bubble. Getting frustrated with the outside should be easier as I get older, and my anxieties should be more present and maybe a little more visible, yet it seems to be the opposite. The awareness of who I am, and what I’m doing, is more pronounced, and takes a lead role in how I approach every day. I am stronger and wiser and more focused than I ever thought I could be. But even then, the little things sometimes find a way of worming themselves through.
I overheard a conversation at a Thai place the other day about how someone’s friend wanted to move, was dying to move out to Highland Park from Venice because the rent had just gotten too expensive and she just couldn’t pay anymore. Not with her freelance bullshit career making soy candles and water vortexed to higher frequencies.
“What the actual fuck?” I thought. The conversation almost compelled me to turn around and tell the couple to go and tell their friend to fuck themselves gently. Almost.
I exhale, “All of these expats don’t know fucking shit.”
There is an alternative vision of the city in my mind. A city that’s dark around the edges, and classic in all of the right places. The neighborhoods are strung together by a collection of highways and freeways and roads that are post-war and industrial, yet snake around large and quiet suburbs where people who have lived here their entire life are making a foundational stamp on their little piece of land so close to the big city. There’s no need in their lives for vortexed water or new age catchphrases. They never wanted to be actors in anyone’s half assed attempt at a screenplay, and they could care less about attending some famous persons’ party up on Mullholland. Everyone silently understands that the streets northwest of the 101 are populated with expendable people who barge into the city, make a selfish mess of it, and when things don’t work out, leave because LA is vain and vapid and too hard. It’s not St. Louis, or Cleveland, or Seattle. It’s not friendly, and it shouldn’t be. Because it’s beautiful and savage and untamable, and to try, to begin to attempt to stop the madness is madness in itself.
“So just leave,” I want to tell them. “Don’t even try; pack your bags and run, because everything will break your heart”, and even though it sounds silly, I have to ask, “where are you from, and how long will you be staying?”
I move up in gear, from 3rd to 4th, as I drive up the freeway on-ramp. I prepare to merge into traffic, signaling, yet still cautiously crawling alongside cars, almost as if on a knife’s edge, ready to cut in. The day is late, and the sun is low in the sky. Traffic on this freeway is steady, and as I move between the cars, I rev my engine in order to let them know that I’m coming. The ground rolls underneath my feet, and the concrete structure that I ride seemingly exists forever beyond the horizon.
I think of the email that I received at 4:11 in the morning. It began with, “Why couldn’t we stay friends?” and then, “I’m in L.A.” I move faster through the cars, switching from 4th to 5th gear, until I reach the leftmost lane. I ride the concrete past the bridges and off-ramps and on-ramps onto other freeways. Passing people in their shells with their smiles and late afternoon glee, before the night, and the promise of a good time somewhere in the city.
I responded to the message, “When do you leave?”
A part of me knows, understands, that those messages and replies, those extreme hour transactions, are too emotional. Too wrapped up in their own chaotic web of past and present expectation left unfulfilled. “Maybe we can have lunch tomorrow?”
Or the next day, or the next week, or the next month, or whenever you’re back and maybe the weather will be a little warmer then, and we will irritated by each other’s presence, and maybe, just maybe, hopefully we won’t meet, and then we will eventually learn the hard and painful lesson that it would never happen and we have been fooling ourselves this entire time.
I exit where the Freeway ends and take Glendale Blvd southward. Splitting lanes through stagnant traffic before making a right and then finding Sunset. I ride Sunset west, and it’s surprisingly calm through the twists and turns.
The expectation left untouched and open is by far the most pristine and undiluted fuel for the heart. Many moments exist that supplement that plain and simple feeling. The road left open, westward, toward ocean enclaves and future venues for the rendezvous of two people who don’t know how to see each other.
The jitter in my legs slows as I come to a stop at a light near the Good Luck Bar, and I take a deep breath. The silhouettes of the buildings along the Boulevard seem to become more severe with every passing moment.
It’s a silly thing to expect something, anything, from the image of a person, as if an episcope is projecting the vague form on the backdrop of a memory. Yes, many times it seems as if there is no equal set of satisfactory conditions.
The light turns green, and then I go.
I’m reading John Keats.
On the long drive home.
From a faraway place.
I come, closer.
The end of the last line.
On the very last page.
The Horizon in the distance.
Is a place trapped in fickle memory.
I will love you forever.
Until the very last second.
Of the very last minute.
Of the very last hour.
Of the very day last day.
Sometimes I wonder if.
We are as brave as we make ourselves believe.
I left the house the other day, just to get some fresh air for an hour or two.
I went for a walk through the campus. The sun was going down, and the wind was moving gently through the palms. I thought about how the light looked on Mt. Lemmon during early morning hikes, and how Mt. Lemmon reminded me of hikes up Turnbull in Whittier.
I had an article by Phillip Anderson earlier that day criticizing the nuclear and particle physicists during the late 60’s, and he had a point. In the 60’s, the discipline made historic leaps over the other branches. A sense of fundamental understanding was achieved, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the development of Q.M. during the first few decades of the 20th century. But this was also post-WWII, at the height of the Cold War, and in the middle of the space race. We were looking for better weapons, and better sources of energy. Nuclear power had shown its might via the bomb, so naturally, the government took an interest in such powerful resources. Funding went in the direction of high-concept fundamental theories of matter, leaving everyone else in the camp of, well, everything else.
It unfortunately segregated those others, i.e. Condensed Matter Physicists, Relativists, etc., into the camp of almost 2nd class scientists, when they were really not.
As the Cold War waned, however, and as the Nuclear Age slowed down and flaws became apparent in it’s edifice, and even as people got older and computers became smaller and seasons passed, things changed, as they always do.
We are now in a so called second ‘Golden Age’ of Relativity, the first Golden Age being the early 70’s of Kerr, Hawking, Penrose, et al., and though I am unsure and supremely naive, I am working slowly towards a goal, though now it seems as far as the mountains in the distance, and as faint as the light on the city streets.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s first draft of GR, and what it a beautiful time it is to ‘be’.
My eyes are closed, and it’s dark, almost black. My head hurts from the night before, and I remember falling asleep with the lights on and the record player at full volume.
I woke up to the pops a few hours later, and am now adjusting my vision to the surroundings of the elevator at 5AM. The door opens and the brightness of the lobby lights blinds me for a second. The last thing I do before I step out is remember the voices in the room and the clinks of glass and her laughter.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. – Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28
A re-quote of Meditations.
A used up personal improvement.
I could mention Marcus Aurelius,
or maybe even Proust.
But, I haven’t finished Swann’s Way.
Yet I’m driving.
Far away and for a long time.
Past the time when the sun sets,
and there are faint golden streaks breaking through the leaves.
There’s a rumbling.
At first faint, in the distance.
However, it builds and grows and howls.
And then a quiet – silence.
Only the car engine and a memory.
And all that there is contained in the short span of a lovely hello.
I don’t think that I’ll ever return.