13. How I fell in love

Back at the beginning of this, I remarked a couple of times about falling in love. Falling in love with Los Angeles. Or rather, falling in love with the bigger thing that’s L.A. of which Los Angeles is both a present and absent part. You can be in L.A. but nowhere near Los Angeles. Sometimes, nothing but the light . . . our light . . . unites them. (Was I out of doors more, less inside, when I fell in love? My mother was dying. Outside was somewhere to go. Somewhere else.)

I would go out with Michael Ward, a former student assistant in a history program at Cal State Long Beach in which I had been a very junior administrator. He drew (he paints now). He took photographs (and still does). His roots are in Montana, and I always had the impression that Michael’s part of it, the past out of which he came, was (vaguely) the sort of place that could be in the background of a Dorothea Lange photograph, documenting something for the Farm Security Administration. (I went with him once on a rambling trip through northern California and the upper West to Montana, and his hometown was that place.)

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Michael had spent more years in Long Beach, a city notable for its bars (it was still a Navy town, and there were a lot of them). Its bungalows (built between 1900 and 1925). Some tourists. The Pike (a kind of Coney Island). And a presence, despite making appeals to other people’s nostalgia. Long Beach was there, facing south into the Pacific, a little down at the heels, and it was at the end of everything, as far as I knew. One of those places in L.A. that has enough. Enough, at least, that you can see as much of the human comedy as may be needed to acquire a human heart. Or so it seemed at the time.

We drove around Long Beach. Michael taking photographs of old houses, old bars, old businesses. Mostly, old houses, assembling a domesticity of architectural forms - Midwest farmhouses, Eastlake and Queen Ann, plainer stick-style houses, Sears’ manufactured bungalows, the two or three Greene and Greenes, streets of diminished Spanish Colonial Revival haciendas. And, expanding the survey, we drove around L.A., bypassing what we were advised to be the notable examples of famous architects because we were so distracted by the ordinary.

Perhaps I was looking for other houses to live in. Other than the one I lived in then. (It’s my house now.) Or perhaps I was looking for some evidence of permanence.

The photograph on this page was taken by Michael Ward and is used with the artist's permission.

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