UNITED STATES—Lovely event at the library in Echo Park last Friday. The poet Patricio Maya gave the first of three Friday talks devoted to his poetic influences. The endearing Borges, the Whitmanesque Pablo Neruda were featured, and I got to read a couple translations, as well.
So we left the event walking on a cloud, taking some pictures with the marquee-quality sandwich board on Sunset Boulevard, (I always dreamed of being in photo a la The Doors standing atop a billboard for their album on Sunset Boulevard, here it was in essence.) Good times. Afterward we went around the corner to Tierra Mia on Alvarado for a cup of coffee both to celebrate the lecture and in the hopes of banishing Pat’s fatigue after the event. Talking two hours non-stop is indeed taxing.
So we talked for a few minutes without being able to vanquish the fatigue, and it got to be about 20 minutes after the hour, the hour being 6 and the day being Friday.
We walk back to the Edendale Library parking lot and the gate to the lot was closed but ajar, as it should have been. But inside a man was taking care of the grounds. All the other cars were gone from the parking lot, except ours. Gosh, the library had closed and the people were gone. The man with the pickup said, “You cannot leave. You will have to go call security.”
It was a supremely absurd situation. The gate was closed. We were there. Why did a fence have to be there at all? I had been at a lecture that touched on Borges, a poet and story writer who opens so many doors. This was the ghost of Borges talking. The fault of this happening was the fence. You could blame the slap of reality on the fence whose sole purpose was to render the parking unusable when the library was closed. It was a challenge of the severest variety: those which are labeled unfair. Our after-reading reverie could not last one second longer before this adversary, who was a stickler for the parking-lot rules.
Patricio said, “We are volunteers here at the library. I am a professor.” And he tried to show him the photo we took of the sandwich board. The groundskeeper would have none of it; he shied away from the photo as the basilisk’s gaze, as if fleeing his better nature. The man had perhaps been traumatized by a previous incident where he had been punished for being lenient. That much was obvious.
So we kept it up, Patricio heroically adding more than 10 minutes to the two interrupted hours of speaking.
“We are going to drive out of here… I know you are a decent person.”
The groundskeeper was stalwart. He did his duty to the utmost. There is no need here to chronicle the fortitude or unpleasantness that eventually unfolded. I left the scene of the events sadly nostalgic. That is the point of this digression:
The threat of being separated from my car, my way home, took me back to the early days in Los Angeles, before I even had a car, and when I did have a car the freeways always took me to someplace else. These sort of heart-stopping events seemed to happen daily, and a door always opened against seemingly insurmountable foes. One morning, for example, my wife and I had heard our unborn baby’s heart beat in the medical office.
When we came out from this epiphany, a towtruck was scooping our car up because we had parked in the wrong parking lot. The driver gave us a break. His name was Erik Estrada like the guy on Chips. He ended up hearing a tearful litany of our brief harsh time here, the lack of employment and a fixed address. After hearing this, he let us have the car back and actually gave me some work. He needed to translate for the towing company. He paid me a little bit, but the real reward was being reminded of who I was before coming to Los Angeles from Mexico, a reporter and translator.
It took Los Angeles and all its barbarities to turn me into the Wizard of Fiction.
Graydon Miller is the author of the acclaimed story collection, “The Havana Brotherhood.”