Box of Broken Dreams: In Search of a Soul Lost and Found in L.A. 

A young photographer's belongings are abandoned on a Hollywood street, leaving our writer to piece together the fragments of his life. Video extra: excerpts from a life on DVD

Wednesday, Jan 28 2009

Watch the "Box of Broken Dreams" featured video here.


Oh, yeah, sure. Tell me you haven’t done it. You’re walking along and you see that box of stuff near the curb. You know the box. The one with scratched picture frames, a pretty darn good dish rack, slightly scuffed shoes, a VHS copy of Jagged Edge, maybe a tattered Friends script next to a torn Scarface poster. There are books you don’t have but don’t really want, various half-used toiletries and some clothing that looks really interesting, if you lost weight. A lot of weight.

click to flip through (6) NICOLAS GARNIER - Through a lens darkly: L.A. in black and white, photographed by Nicolas Garnier
  • Nicolas Garnier
  • Through a lens darkly: L.A. in black and white, photographed by Nicolas Garnier

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You know the box. The box that’s left by folks who are not moving to another place in Los Angeles, but home. Home to Wallace, Idaho, or Quincy, Illinois. Home to Greenville, Alabama, or Ardmore, Oklahoma. Small-town America. The places where dreams are born. The box is the stuff that can’t fit in the back of the U-Haul. The box is the life being left behind.

It is the box of broken dreams.

Sometimes we stare in wonder. Sometimes we turn away in embarrassment. Sometimes we just keep walking. Sometimes we actually rustle through the box. At least, I do.

It’s like any other early-summer Saturday in L.A. Only this one is 101 degrees. People are looking at each other like they’re crazy. And many of them are. It’s too hot to jog, so for exercise, I had decided to walk to the 99 Cents Onlystore on Sunset, the one just south of Thai Town. Now I’m on my way back up the hill, lugging two large plastic bags full of glasses, cheap China-made prison china and some canned food that warns of fast-approaching expiration dates. As I cross Sunset Boulevard, I shvitz from the heat while trying to remind myself I am in some odd way actually exercising.

I turn north up Western Avenue past the White Horse Inn cocktail lounge, continue past the many motels — the places where broken dreams become nightmares — past Pink Elephant Liquors, where urban legend has it Bukowski got his liquor and smokes when he lived on Mariposa Avenue. (The area can be a little rough around the edges. Last December, police found the severed body parts of a 47-year-old man in the store’s Dumpster.)

I cut across Franklin Avenue heading east, pass Normandie and then head north on Mariposa up into the lower hills just below the Griffith Observatory. At 1955 Mariposa, I see the box. It sits next to a green industrial Dumpster in front of a house under renovation. Even from afar, I can see there are things that need much closer inspection. Particularly a collection of Rip Off Press comic books. Including issues No. 4, No. 5, No. 9, No. 10, No. 11 and No. 12 of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers(I own only No. 3 from 1973, and there are just 13 in the series). Dear God, I wonder, why would anyone chuck these?

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers tells the tales of three potheads created by artist Gilbert Shelton around 1970. The main storyline of The FFB is that they’re always attempting to score dope without getting burned. You may know them from such cultural catch phrases as: “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” Shelton has been compared to the legendary Hergé, best known for The Adventures of Tintin. This might be the reason why I find two Tintin model-car collectibles, still in their original boxes. The Model T-Ford, or, in French,La Ford T(from Tintin au Congo, 1946), and the Willy Jeep (from Destination Moon, or, Objectif Lune, 1953). Each of these 1/43-scale models is worth about 60 bucks new, sometimes more on eBay.

I look around, then quickly stuff them into my 99 Cents Only store bags.

Back to digging. Yet another collectible: a Lucky Lukefigurine. Lucky Luke was a popular French-Belgian comic book series set in the American Old West. Weaving real-life Western characters into the storyline, at the end of each tale, Lucky Luke sees its hero ride off into the sunset on his horse, crooning, “I’m a poor, lonesome cowboy, and a long way from home. .”

I wonder if the song applies to the owner of this box.

As I tuck the 7-inch figurine into my pocket, I find another: Edouard Bracame on his Honda CB750. Bracame’s a character in the French biker comics Joe Bar Team, whose adventures are set in 1975 Paris.

Now I get serious, put down my glassware and dive in headfirst. At the bottom of this weathered wooden box, I find four full sets of Homies, the controversial minigang figurines that raised some politically correct hackles a few years back.

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