46. At a roadside shrine

This is another in an occasional series about places in L.A. This place is a roadside shrine.

At the end of my block, where a crosswalk once spanned the boulevard, a community of mourners has assembled a memorial. It circles a Marbelite lamp pole a few steps from a mid-block bus stop. Some copies of photographs are duct taped to the concrete pole: a lanky white kid lolling on a couch, smiling. A girl also smiling. A crowd of kids mugging for the camera. A message in red ink in clumsy block letters attached to another copied photograph, both made unreadable from sun and the unexpectedly late spring rain.

The vigil lights at the foot of the pole have been replaced at least once that I know of. Puddles of congealed pink wax cut out with semi-circles mark where earlier glass containers stood, shattered, and spilled. The city treats these roadside shrines with forgiving indifference. Memorials in the public right of way are cleaned up over time by the city's mowing crew, but there's no rigor in the process and perhaps some superstition. The nine or ten new vigil lights "? none of them burning now "? haven't been moved. They haven't been tended either. Some roses in cellophane "? the kind you buy from a vendor on a street median, that boyfriends buy for forgiveness "? have dried to pale ochre.

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I heard a confused story of the death this shrine memorializes. That a kid "? drunk "? was run over by his friend, also drunk, when the kid slipped out of passenger seat of the car to vomit in the gutter. I heard that the death wasn't at the end of my block but further south. There were two shrines for a while at the different locations. But this one persisted. Perhaps because this was the actual place or only because this location attached itself to the mourners' need to remember.

Richard Rodríguez writes about the "hunger of memory" and the compulsion to narrate "? if only to ourselves "? what we have endured. The little shrine at the end of my block was assembled by children for someone's dead child, despite his age and their pretense, and memory's hunger has used them to rudely fashion a place where memory might be briefly, fleetingly, satisfied.

I don't know if the dead kid's friends made other arrangements. He may have a Facebook page or some other site. But at the end of my nondescript block of vaguely uniform houses and on a stretch of median planted decades ago with eucalyptus trees, the kid's friends marked out a place in the ordinary. And though abandoned now "? or as soon as summer comes on "? this place resists forgetfulness. Places resist, even when no one is paying attention. That is one reason "? not the only reason "? that places matter. That we make them with what we have at hand, that we evoke them, and they are braver than us and faithful. And for a little while, they are sacred.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user peppergrass. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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