LA Diary 2005: January


The Diary of an American Idiot
Photos by Bruce Sterling

January 17, 2005

It is not true that nobody walks in LA. I do. There’s a metro I can reach on foot from my flat in Pasadena.

Off at almost every metro station, wasting time until the next train arrives. Not much to see, except real nice hippie hobos giving speeches almost everywhere, from trains to parks. They seem as if they know a lot, and have as much to deliver. They don’t seem neurotic or geeky. They do seem out of their time and in some particular political space.

Three days of holidays. One belongs to Martin Luther King. He was killed April 4th, but Americans don’t like death dates, I was told. So they celebrate him today, which makes no sense to me. Except that every day is good for pacifist marches. As a Woman in Black, I honor this date wherever I am.

A dry fountain at metro station Mission says: “Women built this for men and horses.”

I notice that people here, even the retired people, are ashamed not to work, even if they have nothing to do.
In Serbia, in Italy, it is a shame to work, so even when they do work, they pretend not to.

In Europe everything is smaller, and the fattest people are never so fat as they can be here. I found an abandoned eye liner on the metro seat. Wow, I will paint my face here in LA.

I cleaned the bare, unfurnished flat. What a beauty it is, white and empty and full of Californian light, which reminds me of Spain and Greece and Rome. I cannot understand the American broom though, its handle is way too long and the brush is not even. It is an ordeal to fight this broom while cleaning. Maybe I could ride it.

Today Steph told me, ‘just write anything that comes across your mind.’ I am not too keen on writing. Writing here is different, to be a writer, a novelist here is a job, just like any other job, to earn money…

In the post office, kind Indians, less kind but still gentle black people help me mail my stuff, half-blind and half-American illiterate as I am. I have no credit cards still, my country got sanctions once again a few days ago.

Then, on my way back, a Mexican cop, young, in black leather, dark glasses, on a motorbike, stops me with a gentle, “ma’am.” Ok, I think, he is going to ask me for directions. Instead he says he wants to talk to me. Lord, I wonder what this is all about. He starts very mysteriously asking me how I managed to cross the street. I explain to him in detail that I pressed the button and waited for the green lights… etc., etc…

Very mysteriously and slightly more loudly he tells me that I blatantly and slowly crossed the street with the red hand telling me to stop. I am confused, I tell him, I am European, we don’t have hands, only traffic lights… Oh, that triggered him. Je got really excited: my passport, my address, when where what… I had no passport, no ID with a photo, and a lot to explain… I am not really following his police small-talk, I am more interested in the meta-event, he notices that, it gets on his nerves… At that point he pulls out his notebook and starts interrogating me…my birth date, the color of my eyes, my height in inches… I don’t know inches, he measures me with handfuls, I have to take off my sunglasses off to prove the blue color of my eyes… What this is all about? I cannot pull out, I cannot find the right tone, whatever I do or say makes him want to do or say more.

I know my address, a street around the corner, but I don’t know the zip code of California for that street, he is upset… I don’t know how long this goes on, maybe twenty minutes by now, a mini show… I notice he has the dark glasses without reflection and really hip leather jacket that young kids wear in Europe to imitate LA cops… I felt like taking a photo of him with me, for my daughter…

So my first LA cop says, you will be cited to the court in a month or two. WHAT, I say, can’t I pay the fine…no, no says he, not now, in court… This guy is breaking my heart and making me really paranoid now, I don’t know what he asked me, what I said. I told him the truth about everything, and he is doubting everything he claims…Maybe he is only performing his job, though Bush does come into my mind immediately…

To break the spell, I ask him, now you tell me something, where can I buy some food around here, he answers nicely, what kind of food, oh all kind of foods, oh a supermarket you mean, yes I mean that…

Four lights ahead, he points out.
Four blocks, I ask.
No, four lights, he insists.
Ok, I am leaving, he takes my arm, hey ma’am.
Here is your piece of paper. It is yellow and scribbled…
Ok I say…
All right, ma’am, he says.
All right, I say, waving my hand to him.
I don’t like him anymore, I don’t like myself, I am positive I didn’t cross against the red lights.
I explained to him we didn’t have those buttons and hands in Europe, and even if I did, there were other people doing the same thing with me… He picked me out, he waited for me and I walked into his trap.
All of a sudden I am shaking, I remember our policemen during Milosevic, how they tried to harass us, how we managed to talk them down politically with words: this is my country too, you are my police too, you have to protect me, not to harass me…

Well, this is not my country, and these people behave as if people from abroad are their worst enemies… I don’t want to preach to a young Mexican-American policeman who didn’t want foreigners crossing against the traffic lights on his beat…I felt like an Albanian, a Bosnian, a whatever Other in Belgrade during Milosevic. Probably all those cops, I managed to coax into reason in Belgrade depended on the fact that I was a Serb, that it was my hometown more than theirs since they were often from inner Serbia. I think of the political activity I imagined I might do here, suddenly I am frightened, I don’t like the feeling.

At the next block, I see my supermarket, I am crossing the street with no traffic lights, a black security guard told me to do so…laughing when I told him I got a citation to the court for my infraction… The Mexican girl in the market helps me find things I need. She is his female replica, a laughing humble and bright second-generation American, probably the cop’s girlfriend. I need a beer, just like in the good old times of the civil war we had in the streets during Milosevic in Serbia, which really never stopped; it is called racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. Wherever it may be.

Summer in winter

Through my window, standing on the ledge, over a roof, fishing with my laptop for a solid free wifi signal which will bring me together with my faraway people, I see a hobo staggering with dignity down my street. He is dressed heavily in green Italian alternative coat from the seventies, wears a woolen red cap with a Santa Claus top, and has boots…though it is really, really hot…In the seventies in Milan, it was the fashion to dress according to the calendar and not the temperature.

A few hours later: I met a Bosnian woman talking in public, on her cell phone, to somebody in our language. She was saying in a miserable voice, alone of course I am alone, I am taking a walk, with whom on earth could I be… She didn’t know I understood her speech. I looked at her. She was well-dressed, well-fed. Everybody in her country I am sure would have envied her looks and possessions, and they sure still do…but she was miserable in California, she missed her gossip over a cup of Turkish coffee, her music, her dirty roads, her small half-broken household… or maybe she had none of those, gone with the wind in the war.

January 28, 2005

In a jazz club in San Diego, downtown: inside it is forbidden to smoke, outside it is forbidden to drink. Inside you can drink, and outside you can smoke: balancing on the threshold one can manage both…or neither…

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One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: LA Diary 2005: February « Virtual Vita Nuova

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