Letter to Los Angeles

by Sandra Giedeman

LosAngeles, flammable city, where small-shouldered oil derricks pump endlessly, gouging rocky wells. The concrete gorge built to contain a trickle of water known as your river; Flood Control District overkill. An oblivious egret poses like a paper cutout against the mud gray walls. The whipping winds of the Santa Anas and countervailing winds that picks up speed, moving, whistling, past car windows, past the 405 and 15, the 91, lined with burned palm trees, oleanders cracking through pavement. Cryptic graffiti. The Los Angeles perfume of effluvium. Winds blow past houses in Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Norco, Riverside, on out to the desert finally caught and churned in Coachella Valley windmills spinning like toys on the sands of the Mojave. Relentless Santa Anas, hell wheels rolling down mountains, forcing smog out to the Pacific horizon, turning the sunset a toxic copper, painted metallic. Strange how beautiful is the poisoned air; luminous when the sun drops behind it. And the white sun of day gives everything equal weight—palm fronds, tangled scarlet bougainvillea, a shabby adobe cottage, a red tile roof, criss-crossing power lines. Look at the sky and remember what someone once said, that California is heartbreaking. It tries to be Paradise, but it's broken.

Pickled purple eggs in a cloudy glass jar on the bar in that Irish pub, the King's Head.
Denizens like the Harp Lager on tap. Wipe the foam from their lips and walk to the pier watch the afternoon dissolve on the pier in front of Madame Doreena's, the psychic with the black and white spotted Dalmatian sitting in her doorway. The enclosed carousel is gloomy as a funeral parlor. It is rumored that Marilyn Monroe sat at that carousel watching the wooden horses spin carrying small children aloft on painted ponies. They say she sat there in the early '60s alone in her disguise – black wig, dark glasses.

The dark horses at Santa Anita glisten like polished mahogany. The pervasive
smell of manure, green topiary, Art Deco buildings, shadowy stalls, a 60-something waitress in the bar whispering sure-bets. A guy like someone from the Maltese Falcon walks by. "Hey Smoke," friends call. He is perfectly groomed with slicked hair, a yellow scarf tied around his neck. His shoes are split open at the seams. A chestnut gelding with wraps on all four of his skinny legs stands alone in the paddock, his muzzle caked with a fine coat of mud from the drizzly rain. He shows his huge teeth and precisely bites the apple in my hand, thoughtfully chewing and swallowing before accepting the other half, like royalty. A red-coated bugler plays "Call to the Post" and the horses amble out, jockeys in colored silks atop their backs. The grandstand roar as a dead last longshot pulls ahead, the jockey's whip flashing a tempo on its flanks. "People love underdogs. It's human nature," my father always said. "Silky Sullivan was the most famous come-from-behinder. He'd be so far out of the picture he wasn't even part of the announcer's call and then, last minute there he was, passing every horse like they was standin' still," he would say, smiling, or that "Contention runs deep," about a thoroughbred he liked. I think that I should see George Raft in a Chesterfield, at the windows, or Raymond Chandler reading the form, maybe Nathaniel West in the Clubhouse bar. Santa Anita, golden days.




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