Saturday, August 22, 2009


There is a house that sits at the curved tip of a quiet cul de sac. The sun is out and the five street lamps have been turned off. There are no children, no cars, nothing but the gentle rustle of a breeze. The front yard and the length of the entire house is shielded from the street by a wall of dark green bushes that reach 25 feet high with a denseness of three feet from the sidewalk. The foliage stretches from the edge of the property to the opening of the driveway, the only path free of bushes and green that leads to the house. The faded black asphalt has been made bumpy and mountainous from the thick tree roots just below the hardened layer of man, a testament to the patience of nature that will conquer all with time. Both the right and left side of the driveway are surrounded by tall green bushes. There is a single car parked silently in the driveway, a faded green Chevrolet that has sat in the same spot for three decades. The car is long and wide and emits a constant drip of oil that is caught in the metal basin below its hood. Just past the car is a white garage door that no longer opens. It was once pure white, but the paint has fallen off in large strips and the edges of the wooden door reveal gray wood damaged by sun and rain and wind. To the right of the asphalt there is a slender break in the bushes which opens to a slender cement walkway that extends 15 feet and then makes an abrupt left for another five feet, ending at an open white wooden door, the center of which has a grid-like pattern of beveled orange glass.
Between the bushes and the cement walkway is a tended rectangular garden. Although the property itself is angular, a slender strip of plastic fencing has been placed in the shape of a large circle, about thirty feet in diameter. This shape is the heart of the garden, the mandala around which everything revolves, all other plants surround it like ladies in waiting. The perimeter of the circle is made silver by small bunches of fuzzy lamb’s ear. Interspersed among the silver are patches of vibrant blue lobelia. Small ceramic gnomes and cats and porcelain figurines of English ladies dot the landscape. In the center of the circle is a white ceramic fountain, a chubby, naked Roman boy, dancing amid fluttering ribbons in the midst of a non-existent wind. The yard is quiet, a soft breeze just barely moves the leaves of the tall bushes along the sidewalk. Spotted shade and sunlight speckle the yard in the late afternoon sun. The house faces the yard, a row of windows with gauzy curtains reveal nothing of the world inside. Below the windows, in the small space of earth between the house and the cement walkway, tall bushes of red and pink geraniums glow in the speckled sunlight.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The modular unit is suspended on cinder blocks to keep it raised above the dusty earth. Jagged shards of glass remain in the shattered windows like vicious loose teeth. Pieces of shredded black plastic hang from the underside, fluttering spastically in the softly whispering wind like tattered flags in the murk beneath the mobile. The door frame stands unobstructed, the door having been removed from the hinges and lost long ago. Inside, the floor is littered with chipped plaster and dirt. Menacing black holes have been burned into the carpet and streaks of red and black graffiti shout from the barren walls. The doorway opens into an empty living area, one side of which is open to the world. Instead of a wall, some of the clear plastic that sealed it when it was being moved down highways in some far flung past is still intact. It is yellowed and brittle with an age exacerbated by rare but biting rains, ferocious wind and relentless sun . In some places, it is shredded and dangles like ribbons. Clear packing tape has been applied here and there to close some holes and connect severed fragments. The view through its filmy lens is of a dusty lot that slopes downhill and meets bare boulders and a pair of thirsty pepper trees.
Beyond the open living room, a hall connects three bedrooms and a bathroom. The doors are missing from two of the bedrooms and the bathroom. One room still has a door and it is closed. A soiled mattress rests on the floor of one of the back rooms. It almost fills the room. A woman is sleeping under a coarse and dirty blanket. Her brown hair is matted, her fingers and face are blackened with soot or grease. The other open room is empty. A few flannel shirts are scattered on the floor. The murmur of voices locked in discussion rises from behind the closed door. Behind the mobile, the bald hill peaks and looks over the wasteland. There is a gutted car with a roll cage set up on more cinder blocks. Rusting car parts are spread all over the ground. A burnt out oil drum stands in the center of a ring of broken down arm chairs, couch cushions, tires, egg crates, and busted lawn chairs.
Another lonely pepper tree waves its thirsty fern-like fingers in the hot breeze from its post at the crest of the hill. The steep and pebbly drop off below is littered with white boulders and debris. Ancient rusted tin cans, bits of plastic that might once have been potato chip bags, thread worn rags hide among the dry weeds and boulders marred with graffiti. The drop melts into many minor rolls of earth that reach into the distance. Nestled in their far away bosom, a dirt road lays like a long twitching tongue of earth.
A greasy man with a stripe of gray hair hanging from an otherwise bare skull stands on the edge chewing a tiny twig from the pepper tree. His face and hands are smudged with the black grease so that his pink skin only emerges as patches like land masses adrift in an oily sea. A pair of shaded goggles are strapped over his eyes and his faded purple tee shirt is cut off high above his navel. Jean shorts, once black, are almost gray and cut off just above his knees. He watches the road below, chewing the twig and cleaning his teeth with slow thoughtful relish. The hand that presses the twig to his yellow teeth is clad in a black bike glove, the sort that leaves the fingers exposed, covers the palm and is fastened with Velcro at the back of the hand. His boots are cracked and worn so that creases of brown leather are visible amid the splintering black finish like little veins. The socks sticking out of the top are discolored by sweat and grease. Nothing disturbs the distant road. Farther out, there are patches of green and distant purple mountains.

Friday, August 14, 2009


In the elbow of a curving street is an orange two-story house. Shaped as a box, the house rests on the edge of a steep hill covered in ivy and yellow wild mustard and a small dense grove of eucalyptus. On the first floor, in the back of the house which faces the tall trees, is a small studio apartment. It is a small walled-off part of the downstairs garage. There is a glossy white-walled kitchen with a small white refrigerator. To the right of the fridge is a clean and empty chrome sink with a gray countertop beside it. A white gas burning stove sits perpendicular to the counter. The circular spaces below the iron burners are a little dirty and greasy from meals past. The two back burners are piled high with clean pots and pans which are two big for the tiny cupboards above the stove. Through the open doorway of the kitchen is the bedroom of pale gray walls. The floor space is nearly full with the double bed and a five drawer wooden dresser. Through another open doorway, past the dresser, is the bathroom that has a small window slightly ajar, facing north. Both the kitchen and the bedroom have one large double-paned window, facing west, which looks out onto the concrete backyard, the wooden fence at its border, and the eucalyptus grove just a couple of feet away. The entire studio, from entrance to bathroom, can be crossed in 15 steps. Tan linoleum squares that have diamond-shaped designs in the center cover the entire studio. There is a young woman in the bedroom, she lays curled up on her side facing the light coming in through the window just an inch away. The mattress is soft below her, giving slightly below the weight of her hip. All the florescent overhead lighting is off, the space is lit brightly with the incoming day. The neighbors above are silent. The day is new, just past noon. The light is bright, shielded from any warmth by a thick layer of clouds. The young woman, laying in a man’s pajama top and nothing else, has her eyes closed. Her torso is elevated by two thin pillows covered in thread-bare Disney patterned pillowcases. Her lower torso and legs are covered in two blankets. Just above her skin is a fluffy maroon down comforter, above which is a fuzzy thin blanket of red, blue, orange, and green, colors which form the image of a bright peacock. Three buttons of the pajama top are unbuttoned, exposing her chest to the cool moist air coming through the open bedroom window. Inside, a lingering smell of burnt sage combines with the subtle scent of eucalyptus leaves coming with the wind. Outside, the long, thick leaves rustle in gusts of fog coming from the sea 10 miles east. There are birds chirping outside, undisturbed by the gray weather. Her arms are drawn together towards her chest, her hands just a little above her heart. A couple of houses away, a neighbor is working in his yard, pieces of lumber fall in irregular intervals, each time making a quick sound that quiets the birds down.

Monday, August 03, 2009


There is a long hallway that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. On the right side of the hallway is a pale blond door. There is no handle on the door, just a smooth piece of shiny metal on the right side a little bit above where a handle should be. The door opens easily. From the wooden doorway, the room opens up into a triangle, the door being the point of the triangle and the wall six feet ahead is the base of the triangle. This particular triangular base is half-covered in a spotless mirror. There is reflection from the exact place where ceiling meets wall down to three feet from the ground where a two foot shelf extends from the wall. This is a place for handbags and diaper changing and for resting small children. The shelf is made from a very thick black plastic, strong enough to hold many tons.
There is a little girl sitting on the shelf. She is three years old. She has a mixture of white and pink skin and silky blond hair that hangs in small curls around her face. Her older brother is standing just in front of her. The little boy is five and he is putting red lipstick on her already pink lips. There are two women standing near the children. The women are eating out of small sandwich bags. Their hands dip into the clear bags and pull out small snacks and they tip their heads back and drop in the little bits of food. In between chewing and dipping and tilting their heads, the women talk and gossip about people that are outside the blond wooden door.
The room is really only a triangle on one side, the side to the left of the door. The other side of the room is a half-square and has two right angles. In front of this wall are three porcelain sinks. The sinks each stand on one smooth leg that tapers from a wide bowl down to a smaller point at the ground. The sinks are clean and cold and very white, but they are much smaller than many common sinks, and only stand a couple feet off the tiled floor. Perpendicular to the sinks are a row of three toilet stalls. The walls of the stalls are made of navy blue metal that share only a couple pale white scratches between them. The floor is covered in very small square tiles, most of them are white but there are a couple black ones every couple of feet. Hanging from the ceiling is a singular light, a lone bulb that hangs from the center of the room.
There is a girl in one of the toilet stalls. She is quiet, standing close to the narrow space between the metal door and wall, she watches the little boy applying lipstick to his sister and hears the hushed tones of women gossiping.