A house like Blanche du Bois
March 1, 2010 6 p.m.
Cold, socking in after a brilliant morning, a hazy day. The brightness now bled from the sky, the silent sundown, without color, taking with it the warmth of the day. It’s still spring, the clocks don’t go back, there are new leaves on the tips of the twigs, dense new growth on the hacked up ficus which by all rights should be dead, little flowers, pink and white, on all the fruit trees, trees normally unnoticed in the landscape, like plain little girls in party clothes.
But it looks like rain. Ominous flatness to the sky, blurring the San Gabriels. And my contractor just came down from Santa Cruz, looking for work, I’ve let her take the siding off my chimney, bare wood exposed after forty years. I’m never one to hope for ‘no rain’– Southern California has had 12 years of drought–but tonight I pray, just one more day.
I’m particularly taken by a patch of soft agaves on a kind of junky hillside behind the market at the bottom of my hill, which has burst out this winter with giant sprays of blooms, greenish white, that remind me of my favorite kind of fireworks, that form fat streaks of incandescence. They have a breathtaking identical droop, so that they look like a score of giant wise swans, nodding in the slight breeze, the tips of their beaks green where the flowers have already begun to drop. My eye is caught by the rhythmic echoes of their necks, fountaining above the fleshy O’Keefiean rosettes. Have they always been here and for some reason, I’ve just missed them?
Also, a little house on a unlovely corner of a huge threeway intersection, used to be completely surrounded by unkempt hedges, a shack of a place, but recently it has been stripped of its vegetation, in the process of being “fixed up”–abashed and bare on its triangle of ground at the tip of a triangular piece of property, most of which belongs to a Fifties’ coffee shop and its parking lot. It looks like Blanche DuBois when Mitch turns on the overhead light. Ashamed and startled at its own ugliness laid bare. It’s an unforgiving location where homeless people park their assortment of vehicles and become part of the neighborhood, with a view of the loading dock of a chain drugstore.
This house–what could they possibly be doing with it? it’s a mean little thing, exposed like that, probably not more than one room, flat roofed, one mean barred window, one new aluminum fixed one, on each side of a security-barred door. But when it was swathed in its twelve foot high wall of plants,its yard full of salvaged furniture and odd pieces of rusting fence, it was a sanctuary, inhabited by a crusty old man, who reminded me of Charles Bukowski. It provided an interesting a transition zone between the homeless people parked on the street, and the residents in the ‘proper’ houses on the uphill side of the big intersection. He was probably friends, or equally crusty, with both.
Who will live there now? What happened to the old man, did his children put him in a home? Or was he there until he went on to the salvage yard in the sky? Bright handfuls of pigeons flly up like graduation caps.
I think what disturbs me about it, was that, small and rundown as it was, it was a complete world. With those hedges, it was that old man’s world, summery, leafy, green, a place to have a drink in the afternoon with odd friends. And now, who on earth would find sanctuary there.