On one of my walks this week, I saw an astroturf lawn being watered by a sprinkler, and briefly I thought I was in Los Angeles. AA Gill wrote that in LA, everything is “[l]ow creeping faux family friendly, built in a vernacular of amateur whim and sentimental detail, patched onto functional boxes with occasional touches of eccentricity.” He continues to say that “the major architectural direction is lent by God and gardeners”, and that “the overall sense is of hasty impermanence, a city thrown up on a whim while they thought of something serious to put in its place.”
But North Park is not Los Angeles. Excepting the sprinkler watering refined, green plastic (in actuality also watering a bed of blooming and triumphant agapanthas), North Park is more like Pasadena with its vintage Craftsman homes, gables, and porches.
I pause in front of poet Maggie Jaffe’s old house on Granada, the one that used to be hemmed in by deep hedgerows and planted with citrus. Many nights I spent there with sheafs of letters and poetry, itinerant scotch, and the company of compatriots, every room in the two story house lined with books, every room potential for a Mary Shelley-style soiree, writers retiring to individual spaces to pen their novels and craft their poems, inspired by bound novels and carefully selected furniture. Now the house is naked and without greenery, a seemingly disused basketball hoop perched on a dead lawn, a sign saying ‘in escrow.’ Memories.
There is a crow that rides the spokes of an abandoned bicycle, with a flutter of wings circuitously jumping the rear hub, centrifugal, turning circles on the wheel in corvid enjoyment while the city wakes up, a low sun reflecting off eastern clouds and turning the palms golden. The squirrels in urban rodent fashion trace the telephone wires with tails flicking; they grip the cables and chatter at every passerby, chastisement of the less arboreal. They are responsible for all the broken fruits on the pavement and somehow survive the buzzing power lines while practicing their thieveries, scrabbling from wire to tree, tree to wire and, with scratches of nails, bursting across the pavement in mad scrambles.
A woman in a blue parka walks a bloodhound who’s snuffling the pavement looking for urban truffles. His ears drag through puddles from the morning rain, nose working overtime in houndian fashion, eyes down , tail pumping happy else intrigued by the smells invigorated by the brief rainfall. “Good morning, Pupaloo,” I say because I say good morning to all the animals when I walk like some modern day St. Francis—the people too-because for us early-risers, there is something special about the dawn and why we’re awake when everyone else has yet to percolate their coffees and toast their bagels.
I recognize all the buses now as they vacuum up their early patrons, accordion buses with whooshes of air brakes to interrupt the cloisters of bus stop culture, disparate peoples surrounding benches and smoking their first cigarettes, drinking cuppas while they wait. Nomad Donuts where the patisseriers are rolling the first crullers, down to a sleeping Carnitas’ where I met my friend Sara with her culinary tattoos, where when I was down one day and where the sign proclaimed, ‘Sold Out’, I still got foie gras poutine and a smile.
Past Influx where Holly walks out and says, “Good Morning, Thom,” and she opens the Qwik Stop for me and I help her grab items from atop high shelves and unload groceries from her truck.
A sit outside of Alexander’s where they still feature the walnut gorgonzola pasta that Jenn and I shared on our first Valentine’s Day in North Park, pregnant with Cayden. The Lynhurst, the North Parker, Saguaro’s, Paesano’s, St. Pat’s and St. Luke’s in quick succession, Pigment with blades of mother-in-law tongue in the front window, the army surplus building, the bridal boutique and the Ray St. galleries. All these places, all the memories that I have—a decade’s worth—living in a city where I know everyone by name, my peripatetic wanderings past the edifices and storefronts, the gardens and gables. All this: my North Park, and—like the crow riding the spokes of the abandoned LimeBike—I turn circles in the morning, round and round the neighborhood enjoying enjoying my home.