Today, I studied my city with memories captured in a single, tired glance.
It’s all I can spend on it sometimes: One look — and I’ve gotta keep on moving. Which may be why Los Angeles discovered on foot never resembles the place I think it actually is. It looks different, in walking actuality; and unlike in more pedestrian-friendly places, it doesn’t pulsate with a life. Instead it buzzes. Sometimes, it screeches; and it honks, zooms by like an impatient, swearing driver who nearly runs me over, while making a right on red.
And when I can no longer stand such a mechanical pace, I plead to meet my friends in places that remind me: that there is life, and there is love; and that somehow, in end, we may just all turn out alright.
Today, while I driving across town, I granted other passing faces a single, tired glance: as much as I could hold without averting my eyes in shame at sudden lack of my compassion, once I’d discovered they weren’t accidentally the faces of those I loved. Besides, I only could linger for as long as it was safe for those drudging through the traffic behind me. Then, I’d gotta keep on moving. We all had to.
It started with a girl backing her black SUV out of a driveway on the West Side. At first, she didn’t see me; and normally, immediately outraged, I’d honk and swear, demonstratively delivering my point about being wronged, in her rear-view mirror. Today though, I could use a slower pace. There was no traffic lingering behind me, so I just stopped and waited for her clumsy merger to be completed.
Still, she wouldn’t see me (or, maybe, she merely pretended); and when I drove around her giant car, glossy like the wet back of a killer whale, I saw her left profile. She had a tightly pulled ponytail on the back of her head, perfectly ironed and sleek, with not a single hair out of place. Her lips were glossy and pursing. And then, above a diamond stud, I saw a tiny mechanism jammed into her eardrum.
She was talking, gesticulating at what seemed to be the pace of her speech. Although her windows were tinted, in the back seat, I saw a forest of stiff handles of shopping bags and a few tubes of wrapping paper. Just watching her, I got so tired, I made up my mind to take the slowest lane all the way home — for the next ten miles.
When the front line of cars on my side of the road began rolling under a freeway bridge on Venice, my lane slowed down at a wide intersection. Quite normal, I began to think, especially a day before Christmas: For I’d already witnessed a plentitude of abnormal behaviors this week, which had to be the reason for feeling so completely drained. I lingered for a handful of seconds. I studied my city. The palm trees shimmered above my open sunroof like an old backdrop in theatre no longer doing magical productions.
From in front of the car, leading all of us across, I finally saw a woman bicyclist emerge and slowly make her way through moving traffic.
“Not very smart,” I thought but waited somewhat patiently.
But then I saw a baby trailer attached to the back of the bicycle. A blond head of a child was visible through its netted side wall.
“That woman — is an idiot!” I thought. And normally, I’d keeping on swearing and scoffing, and call the silly mother some terribly unworthy names. Today, though, I looked away; for I myself began to feel exhausted by the lack of reasonable behavior on her part.
A black woman with a drag queen’s eye make-up was ringing a bell in front of my Trader Joe’s. A cross-section of hippies were rushing in inside, then coming out with loaded brown bags. I didn’t see the woman speak: Her call for charity would be completely silent if it weren’t for the arhythmic, tired ringing of her bell. The shoppers seemed indifferent (although one woman faked looking at the pavement, as if she’d lost something). I, too, continued driving, somehow more exhausted by the lack of my compassion than by the disappointment at that of others.
To my gray-faced and tired teller at the bank, I barely uttered a word. The skin under his eyes seemed yellow and ready for the end of the day. It was the height of noon.
“I wish you lovely holidays,” a gentleman at the window to the left of mine completed saying, and by the time I glanced over, he slowly began to walk away.
He was gray haired, in a pair of black suit pants and a tweed jacket, sharp dressy shoes and blood-orange-colored cufflinks picking out from underneath his sleeves. He was old Hollywood, moving at a much more graceful speed and treating time like down payments toward better karma.
“Allow me,” I said, once I had caught up to him and opened the door. I had to!
Despite the obvious exhaustion marked in the lines around his eyes, the man’s glance was mellow, aware and kind. And it was not enough to resurrect my own compassion, but to remember that this time of year — I could better yet.