In "Mining the States of City Minds," a recent blog, I introduced my approach to experiencing the texture of city life in Venice, California and writing up the resulting stories with a type of literary journalism. This kind of writing, with roots in the New Journalism of the 1960s, captures these stories as they happen in the streets and other sites of everyday life through scenes that are faithful to the action and events they emerged from. It lets characters speak for themselves, which gives the writing the feel of a fictional short story but also a more truthful approximation of the surfacing event through their differing perspectives or points of view. Like a Surrealist flaneur I amble through the city trolling for stories and find their potential elements in various clusters of activity, sometimes homeless camps, where these voices dramatize their challenging existences. They present the evidence that might lead to a larger story waiting to be told. This is the second in my series. In the first I captured the chaos ensuing from a crime in the streets, and especially the actions and impressions of one person suspected of committing it as he escapes into the bowels of the city. Here I capture another scene in a park at night where a few residents from the previous one are present along with others, including the suspect.
The Dog Park
The Dog Park at night is devoid of canines. No Italian Greyhounds, Great Danes, Labradors, Airedales, Pekingeses, Pomeranians or French Poodles escorted by well-bred couples or their bronzed shadows; no pitbulls, mutts, mongrels or prairie dogs husbanded by the unemployed or Frisbee-levitating freaks. No echoes of the discordant barking symphonies that overspill the park during the day, or the blood-curdling howls, growls and yelps that erupt when the sublimation wears off and pet begets the wolf it momentarily supersedes, even sometimes giving way to a full-blown breeding struggle. Wyatt often found himself in the middle of these outbreaks, forced from his fitful slumber to play peacemaker to lords and serfs.
The night was primitive communism. The degrees of victimization were more or less the same, the telltale scars and frayed threads were equal sartorial justice, the plots of land were squattable by all,
no matter what the racial or gender preference.
But the dog-eat-dog of the jungle gnaws away at the fabric.
"We gotta get otta here pretty soon, somethin's goin on out there...what we gonna do," says a male curled around a tree on the north end of the park, speaking to no one in particular. He could be anywhere between thirty and sixty, depending on the results from sifting through the street fallout in the light of day. Several others who are scattered down the mound from him look around, curious about who might be the object of his words. No one takes credit.
"Can't go back over there fer a while, that's fer sure!" he continues.
He's new to the area and hasn't been initiated. So most keep their distance, especially since he refuses to give his name. There's always the fear of outsiders spying on them, especially those with accents that are unfamiliar or apparently not true. And many on the street have minor warrants, failure to appear violations from when their lives above ground were starting to slide and they ignored too many petty citations, or more serious, ready-to-cuff ones. Life on the street can weaken moral restraints; even catapult some in directions they never intended. So as a result many assume cop until proven otherwise. The gossip is still rife about how a couple of the LAPD's finest actors could keep at it long enough to get Arnie who hung with the "art" crowd in the alley behind Beyond Baroque. He'd violated parole for hangin with Alf who was finishing his parole from a stint in the County for refusing to pay his bill for the breakfast special at the Café 50s.
A few begin to move away from him. Some continue chatting about who the person might be who killed the guy in the alley the previous day. Others go on about their business.
"Doubt if he coulda had anything at all to do with it...it just doesn't make any sense!" says a fifties-something male dressed in frayed and soiled military fatigues, referring to Wyatt, the main suspect.
"Yeah, but there was somethin funny about the way he was always leavin when we just got...member when we was havin that meetin over near the Free Clinic and he just stared at everyone and ran off?" a young woman responds.
A squad car dopplers past, briefly illuminating the Main Street side of the park, quashing the interchange. Angela and an unnamed male with a gray-streaked afro are making dinner plans. He'd just visited the dumpster behind Westminster, exhibiting his discoveries along the edge of the grass: a still-wrapped Big Mac, an unopened mini-bag of Chili Cheese Fritos, a clump of what appears to be chocolate cheese cake, a mound of crushed munchies on a large dinner plate, and several yet-to-be-clarified items he's in the process of preparing.
"Hey Angela," he blurts, "ready for a real goormay dinner? Found a dead possum down the alley. If we can get us a fire goin...Mal over at Mao's scored me some sauce, though not sure what kind...could make us a mess a possum grinder sandwiches if we get everything together. Was a chef back in Tupelo for a few weeks and usta make some kickass grinders...possum's a delicacy in the south!"
"I got it," he screeches, flailing his arms like he's gesturing with amens at a revival meeting. "These folks round here gots more than they need have...gonna grab me a fire maker!"
He hustles to Pacific and crosses a couple hundred feet or so in front of a black and white speeding north, continuing to Clubhouse and then past to the alley and left toward the beach. He begins to scout the backyards. Angela caresses her companion's items and places them next to an adjacent tree, while seeing a male figure enter the park from the south. She notices that several park residents begin stirring in their roosts. Some start crawling toward the street. Lionel recognizes Wyatt coming toward him.
"Hey, you guys seen Willow?"
Wyatt's question gets no response. He watches as most everyone scampers out of the park, all except Lionel and the unnamed stranger, who's now nervously staring at Wyatt.
"Anyone seen Willow?" Wyatt repeats, wondering why no one responds. "Where's everyone going?"
"Where ya been?" Lionel fires back. "Seems like just about everyone's looking for you since..."
"...why, what you mean? Who?"
"When's the last time ya saw Medic? Why ya wanna see Willow anyway?"
"Don't remember anything...Why isn't she round? Something happen to her?"
"You gotta get yerself together!"
The black and white returns and slips into the alley behind Clubhouse, its multi-colored light show illuminating the west side of the park and causing lights in several adjacent buildings to be turned on. The officers exit their car and proceed toward the beach, their flashlights exposing every nook and cranny en route. As they near the middle of the block Clara hails the officers from the top floor of her condo on the south side of the alley.
"There he is, over in that yard in the bushes!"
"Close your window and stay inside," one of the officers spouts, while the other removes his weapon and moves slowly in the direction of the sighting.
"Come otta there with your hands up right now," this officer exclaims.
"Don't shoot, don't shoot, I'm comin!" He inches toward the officer with both hands in the air clasped around a small hibachi.
Wyatt dashes from the park in the opposite direction from the activity up Main to Brooks, hiding in the shadows behind the Church of Scientology for several minutes before heading to Pacific and sprinting all the way to Rhiannon's place...
John O'Kane has published over a hundred stories, essays and poems in a variety of venues, blogs regularly on Huffington Post, and edits and publishes AMASS Magazine. His most recent book is, A People's Manifesto (2015).