By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
IT IS A LONG WAY, OF COURSE, FROM THE POLICIES OF abuse that extinguished the cultural life of the Gabrielino to the assumptions William Mulholland made about what might be bought and sold with impunity. But the policies and assumptions are rooted in a similar indifference to the sanctity of complex life. As much as the Gabrielino selected the Valley as a comfortable abode, the Valley itself exerted a selective pressure on the Gabrielino and their culture. And Mulholland ã construed water not as life but as a commodity, a market lever.
To effectively address the ordinary difficulties of human existence, each generation must relocate and protect the ground that will not give way, the ground that will sustain the dreams of its ancestors in the face of waywardness. An American writer today can hardly miss, anywhere in the country, the emergence of a culture increasingly mestizo in its ways, and yet he or she knows that many Americans still cling silently to the hope of a rule by one race, and continue to believe in a land that will produce no end of water, timber, coal, gasoline and the other fuels of culture. When the lessons come -- infernos in the chaparral, the Watts riots, rolling blackouts -- they are met with new technologies and new infrastructures which often prove only weirdly cosmetic.
Some fundamental shift in cultural awareness now seems called for. The economic assessment of a stretch of land, it might be argued, can be made more accurate now by taking into account what comes out of the earth that cannot be bought.
When I read the journals of 18th-century travelers to the San Fernando Valley, I can grasp that they were mesmerized by the same things I was as a boy. These essences, it seems to me, no kind of development can truly erase: the heartbreaking light clear as grain alcohol, then "weathered like aluminum," in the phrase of contemporary California poet Robert Vasquez. Spring winds bursting along the river through bosquesof native walnut and oak, those complexly graceful limbs riding the buffet. And the all-or-nothing of the streams -- Tujunga Wash running one day like the upper Missouri, another day standing as sleepy as a bajadaat noon.
I am inclined toward these natural elements, toward them as a foundation for culture, because they saved my life as a child. It is not nostalgia I feel for them but respect.
ON DECEMBER 23, 1955, MY MOTHER MARRIED HER THIRD husband, a businessman from New York who offered us financial security, elevated social status and private schools. At the least, this marriage represented for her the realization of what she had been seeking in the Valley for years -- dependably stable, even generous economic circumstances, a more graciously appointed home and a measure of privilege; but this life would now unfold for us in Manhattan, not in working-class Reseda.
The relief I felt at the news that we would be leaving California was the kind of relief an animal might feel if that animal had been electrocuted to unconsciousness every few days by an indifferent owner, and then had awakened one morning to find the owner dead, the cage door standing open. Along with three other boys at the time (whom I've never met, and only learned about years later from two detectives in the Los Angeles Police Department), I had been sodomized repeatedly in the mid-'50s by an older man who ran a drying-out clinic for alcoholics on Riverside Drive in North Hollywood. He preyed, I would now speculate, largely on the sons of single mothers who brought a friend or relative in for treatment. He posed as a compassionate M.D. but was neither. In the way of a true sociopath, a pathological narcissist, he insinuated himself into a family with timely gifts on birthdays, extra cash for groceries and school clothes, and the offer of an evening off for a parent when he would volunteer to take a son "to the movies."
According to the detectives, Harry Shier fled L.A. in 1959, one step ahead of a grand-jury indictment, and not his first. He had fled earlier indictments in Canada and Colorado. He was murdered, the police told me, in South America in 1961.
Like tens of thousands of sexually brutalized children, I lived in silent compliance. My patient hope was somehow to walk away, to no longer have to endure his compulsions in the small, nasty apartment he kept on the roof of his sanitarium. But when my dreamed-of escape became reality, when I was rid of him, I missed California to the point of grief. The sound of mourning doves at first light; the unpopulated middle stretches of Topanga and Laurel canyons, with their bolting jackrabbits; the long beaches at Zuma and Leo Carrillo, where it seemed to me the biggest waves in the world came to their crashing ends -- these sounds and places were my refuge from the threat of ruin in that room. Without them, without the surgical sharpness and (on another day) the smoky nature of the sun's light as it spilled into the Valley; without the astringent smells of fresh eucalyptus buttons and pepper-tree leaves clinging to the skin of my fingers -- without these things I believe I would have perished. Left like a wet rag doll in the bed of a beast, I might have gone through some other door.
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