Tuesday, March 31, 2009

2:03 a.m.

Sitting here at the dining room table in near-darkness, on my dad's laptop, listening to Charles Bukowski reading his poems from a CD set called "Charles Bukowski Uncensored" which I ripped to the computer and transferred to my mp3 player long ago, but because of the home computer going to the tech guy at my dad's school to be stripped completely and built up again, I transferred these and a lot of other tracks to my jump drive to hold me over until we get that computer back. I'm listening to Bukowski talk about "Vegas and pussy and victory," and I'm thinking, in the glow of this laptop screen, looking into a dark tunnel of a kitchen, that there's nothing else that could be as great as this at this time of the night. I am listening to a master wordsmith, continually reminded of why he was a master wordsmith. I don't want to be him, I don't want to ever try to imitate his style, but I like to genuflect often at his rundown, well-worn temple of words. God forever bless the man, and maybe have a few beers with him too.

Where is the Night?

The night is in this living room-cum-dining room, in the three low light bulbs above me at the dining room table, its depressed light barely making an effort to be bolder than the darkness. The light reaches as far as the bird cage nearest to the TV in the living room portion of this long room and then it gives up. It's about right for this hour, getting near 1 a.m.

The night is also at the community pool across from the patio, not yet open to the residents for the season. It's not quite that temperature that merits late-night hours for teenagers by the pool, in the pool, and in the spa. I wish the mallard duck that I've seen at the pool the past few nights was there tonight, but it's too cool out there for it. The water looks green now, from nature's sediment, leaves, dirt from duck feet, and certainly duck droppings as well. Whomever takes care of the pool will inevitably have to clean it again. It makes no sense that the lights inside the pool are on when no one's there. Well, no one physically, but mentally, since I'm thinking about it right now.

I know without doubt the night is at the houses I've seen near the foothills across from La Mesa Jr. High, where my dad works. It has always amazed me that people would want to live that far away from everyone else, in a cul-de-sac pushed up against a foothill, one that looks like the same as every other suburban tract in the Santa Clarita Valley. What one finds in Stevenson Ranch suburbia is the same anywhere else here. It's disappointing, considering the landscape, which should demand more from those that live in the shadows of mountains and hills and golden yellow flowers on hillsides. Even some of the trees seem to have given up.

I know it seems I'm rambling, but that's what this night feels like. I wonder what it would be like to look into the doors of the Pavilion's supermarket in Valencia, if not for living in Saugus. We lived in Valencia for a year, in one of the apartment complexes behind the Pavilion's shopping center, but I never thought to wander out at night and see what the inside of a darkened supermarket looks like. I think it's because I would have riled our dog Tigger, and our apartment door didn't have anything that could block him from going out. Not that he ever would, but to me, it was best not to disturb him late at night by doing something like that.

The parking lot in this neighborhood, and the one across the street, I like to think that during these hours, I own the cars and trucks parked there. I can't get into them, nor would I want to, but Toyotas and Hondas and Mazdas and Fords, and F-150s and every other kind of vehicle a formerly $400,000 homeowner can get, they're mine. The tires are mine, the windshields, the tailpipes, the colors. I'm not fond of cars anyway, but I just like that I can have them if I want. I don't want to drive them, but I like looking at them, imagining. It may seem strange to be proud of that when I don't like cars, but they're the first available things I can think of.

I wish my neighbors were more well-read. I wish I could find old issues of The New Yorker in their recycling bins. I wish boxes of books sat beside their garbage bins. There was one night while living in the apartment in Valencia where I was taking garbage out to the dumpster, and there was an abandoned chest of drawers against a wall of the dumpster area, in between the two dumpsters. I opened one of the drawers and found a wealth of books left in there, including one called "Little Green Men" by Christopher Buckley, which I still haven't read, despite moving with it to Saugus. There were others I picked up as well, such as "Closers: Great American Writers on the Art of Selling," which contains an excerpt from the novel "The Competitor" by Thomas Bontly. I've read that excerpt more times than anything else in the book so far, and it impressed me so that I bought the book from Amazon Marketplace. I still haven't read that one either, though I lean toward my literary priorities catapulting me elsewhere rather than harboring the thought that the book might not live up to the high standards set in that excerpt, which I don't.

Loving the night is a complete reversal between me and my sister. When I was little, I was always the one put to bed at an early hour. My dad kept my sister up well into the late hours when she was little and when she was growing up, it was hard to get her to go to bed because of that. Now she's the one who's in bed well before 11 and here I am at 1 a.m., writing this. It's not an unconscious rebellion against having been put to bed that early during those years. But I suppose to me, there's more life at night than there is during the day. There's the expected routines, not just with work, but in errands, food shopping, pumping gas into the car, trying to beat the light at the intersection before it turns red, sighing with a little bit of defeat as the garage door comes down on another day after you've parked inside. Not that I have any experience with the latter, but I imagine it may be commonplace among many. At night, there are shadows all over. The colors of tree leaves and bushes and curbs and streetlight poles during the day, become as dark as the blacktop of the street. There is a hint of what there was during the day, but now it's a landscape for the imagination. People can think sinister of their co-workers to loved ones and friends. People can imagine what they might say to those co-workers if they were witty enough and confident enough. I live in the night because that's where I believe the human soul truly lives. During the day, we try to live up to expectations we've set for ourselves for that day, and that others have set for us too. At night, we are by ourselves as we lay in bed, mulling over the day's events and thinking about what might happen the next day. We may talk to others about the day, but we are thinking only as one person. We may think of ourselves in those hours in relation to others, how certain actions we may plan to undertake might affect ones we care about, such as a car purchase or a possible new job, or anything that "responsibility" calls for. I don't have contempt for responsibility. I know there are elements of that which are crucial to our lives. I just have contempt for the vacuum bag that some keep themselves in because of that. Not all people, mind you, just those, say, in my neighborhood, maybe in your neighborhood. My next-door neighbor for example looks like he's been married for decades, and I know exactly what he does as soon as he gets home. Well, I don't know what he does when he's inside, but after a while, he and his wife go out to dinner, then they come home, then the TV goes on in the living room, at least until 11, and then lights out. I walk the dogs on the patio because of a boxed-in man-made landscape that's a decent simulation of Las Vegas terrain (where we plan to eventually move if the Clark County School District begins hiring teachers again), and they need to learn how to go on that terrain. From the patio, I can see the light on in my neighbor's living room and I know that that's when the TV is on. Almost exactly before 11, the light's off. Routine that can kill.

But I'm not one to embark on a crusade to try to break people out of their routines. So be it if they want to live their lives that way. I have my own and that's the only one that matters within my body. As would be appropriate at 1:22 a.m., I've lost the point I was rumored to be making. In fact, I'm not even sure there was one within the confines of the previous paragraph.

My favorite view of the night is from the side parking lot at the Wal-Mart on Kelly Johnson Parkway in this valley. Don't ask me to say where exactly that is because I don't know. I've not known for five years. I have a theory on how to get there, but not certainty. It's what comes from living where you don't care much about what's here. There hasn't been much reason to chance that. But anyway, the view is unfortunately blocked pretty well by a few tall trees which I don't think were there last year. Without them, you could get a totally clear view of Six Flags Magic Mountain, all the lights of the rollercoasters on. Of course if you're looking for a full, not-totally-straight-on view, then you'd have to walk down the parking lot a bit. My favorite view is not that, though, but all the buildings with lights on the sides, lights shining down on other parking lots, traffic lights seen far up mountains, clusters of houses, all kinds of stories that strike me with wonder. Anything interesting happening at one of the intersection? Any suitably crazy people crossing the street? Any new residents sitting stock-still in their apartments, trying to remember what brought them here? Anyone just standing outside wondering the same thing I'm thinking about?

When I was at The Signal, the exclusive newspaper of the Santa Clarita Valley, I thought about writing a column for the weekend Escape section about wanting to make chalk drawings on the long stretch of street that passes my neighborhood on the way to higher ground and higher elevation neighborhoods. Well, not chalk drawings. That's too small-scale. Alien planet landscapes, portraits, city scenes, a chalk drawing of a better street than ours, whatever. I can't actually draw, but just imagining it was always fun. I didn't write it because I was caught up in working on many other things at the paper, but I think it was more of a column than an actual desire. I sometimes stand on that street at night and just marvel at how quiet it is, how my neighbors and other parts of this suburban hick population (we are far enough away from the hub of this valley that I call where I am the backwoods of Santa Clarita, just like Santa Clarita is essentially the backwoods of Los Angeles, since most of the residents live here only because they don't want to live in L.A., but don't mind commuting every day) drive out in the morning, drive home in the afternoon, like pre-ordained permanent choreography. There are some good neighbors, the few that I've seen. One woman I talked to has lived in my neighborhood for 26 years and that's a relief since I'm always worried whenever the winds get heavy enough, especially the Santa Ana winds. It's one of the reasons I can't wait to move to Las Vegas where, despite the winds at times, at least I'd be living on flatlands, and looking at mountains, not living in them.

There was a big black guy I passed by once on the way back to the house after walking Kitty, and we said hello to one another, and I was pleased at his voice. A relaxed tone, almost like you could imagine him as a trumpeter in a jazz band or even as a soloist. He just had that air about him, like he also lived for these hours, where his inspiration was. No doubt he has a job far different from that, but his presence is one of the rare pleasures of the neighborhood, inspiration found that can help create a character for something. A play, maybe a novel, I don't know yet. I need to start writing more often first. That I know.

Maybe that's what the night is. Jumbled moments and jumbled souls, like this blog entry. It's not meant to always make sense. That's what the daytime is for. It's where Oprah reigns and so does traffic frustration. At night, there's the choice of late-night hosts, rustling through leftovers in the fridge, and sometimes just sitting in the living room, thinking. Or, like me, looking up again at the three dining room fan lights on low and wondering. Just wondering. Wondering about the happiness of my next-door neighbor just because he's next door. I doubt he thinks of me the same way, but it doesn't matter. Nothing will ever hinge on that. For me, these kinds of thoughts just happen. They're better at night.