Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No One's Coming, But They Keep Trying

There we were today, the three of us waiting in our trusty, aging PT Cruiser while Dad went inside La Mesa Junior High to his classroom to print something he needed to send in the mail to a potential principal in Las Vegas. He parked horizontally across two spaces, getting us as close as possible to the view we had always liked, a view previously unobstructed by the slanting solar panels that provide a kind of roof over every parking space in the employee lot. The view is still as expansive, but now there's shade. It's a bowl-shaped jumble of houses and brush and roads and huge, circular, tan-colored water storage tanks, giving further evidence that this valley can be nothing more than the gloomy suburb of Los Angeles it has always been. However, it's never felt to me like a suburb because is a suburb really supposed to be 30 miles away from the city that feeds it? A suburb is supposed to be on the outskirts, sure, but not that far out, not when it requires a freeway or two to get there.

Mom and Meridith looked out at the view, but I merely glanced at it and then stared at what I could see of the school, the entrance to the office, the entrance to the Multi Purpose Room (MPR, as it's called by the administration over the walkie-talkies whenever they needed a custodian to open it), an entrance to the gym, the entrance to the custodians' office, the main gate leading into and out of the school, the only way the students can get in.

I always did the job I was hired to do there and I'm proud of that. I was a vigilant, careful campus supervisor, but that's not what was on my mind as I looked at those sections of totally empty campus, the only car in the lot besides ours belonging to the tech guy who fixes the computers and other technology around the school. Only when a campus is this empty do the ghosts come out, the ghosts of its history, wanting to be noticed, to be remembered. I know they're there and I can always feel them, but I wonder who they are. I looked at the doors to that particular entrance into the gym and wondered if there was some student who made a half-court shot on that basketball court inside and decided he wanted to be an athlete. I looked at the doors to the MPR, which inside has a small stage, and wondered if a student had ever stood on that stage, looked out, and thought of all the stories he or she could tell through their actions and emotions, and decided that they wanted to be an actor. I thought about the library, which I always liked, and wondered if a student ever read widely of those books, inspired enough to try writing on their own. Are those kids out there in the world now? Was it possible that La Mesa Junior High had produced such students? This isn't the kind of school whose alumni would want to have a reunion, since the students always struck me as having their own small groups, but never an overall camaraderie conducive to the spirit of the school. Students come, they learn, they go home.

Is there a history about this school that goes back years before we arrived in Santa Clarita? I think it's there somehow, but isn't allowed to bloom because of its location in a valley that always rushes headlong into the future and never slows down enough to consider what it is and where it has been. It's regrettable, but I hope there's some student, some future writer, who maybe sees more, much more than I ever could. Because when I walked around the school while I was a campus supervisor, when the kids were in class, the ghosts of its history called out then too. What did they want me to know? What were they trying to point me toward? Across from one of the special education classrooms, there's a large window that, behind it, has shelves with all kinds of artwork on them, such as pottery, clay figures, photographs, small paintings, and I always wondered who these students were, where they were at that point in their lives. Did they create those pieces, take those photos, paint those paintings because they genuinely felt something that they really wanted to express, or were they just doing it in order to get a passing grade on the assignment? I imagine it was a balance of both.

I know that these ghosts would not guide me to what they want me to know. I would have to figure it out for myself, if I was interested enough in this valley, if I wanted to try to make more out of it than it currently is, than it probably always will be. Besides my job, the only use I ever got out of the entire campus was that one building across from the office, a take on adobe architecture that inspired me to just stand far enough back on it to see the top as well, and imagine that I was in New Mexico. I'm grateful to it for that, for giving me those few moments when the kids were in class and I could do that. I want to travel throughout New Mexico so badly, and this was my way of going there briefly, at least for now.

But what of its history besides gradually aging buildings? There are many, many middle schools in this valley and what makes one different from the other anyway? They all take in students and then a few years later push them out into high school. The names of the middle schools don't lend themselves to much history: Sierra Vista, Placerita, Rancho Pico, Castaic, Canyon. I do wonder if those names were chosen as a reflection of the valley or just what real estate forces came up with when they built and built and built. The only real history of the schools is in one of the districts being called the William S. Hart Union School District, but I doubt anyone really thinks about William S. Hart anymore. It's just not the valley for it.

But the ghosts will keep calling, keep wailing, keep hoping for someone to come along to notice them, to acknowledge them, to see that they were there before, that they did many things in this valley. They'll still be at La Mesa, they'll still be in my neighborhood, and in fact, I still sense those ghosts whenever I roll the garbage and recycling bins to the curb every Monday evening and back every Tuesday evening. I look at those hillsides and wonder if there were any cowboys back then. Did this valley ever have an adventurous spirit? I want to think that it did, but my first visit here, in April 2003, was on one of the rainiest days this valley has apparently ever had, very cold, and with pinprick rain. No life at all in this valley, and not only because of the rain. I should think a lively city would show it, even through the rain. Something interesting, something to look at, something to think about and see that, yeah, this something is so very much a part of this city or valley that it's impossible to imagine it without it. I didn't get that feeling there. I should have known.

But I leave without animosity, because to dwell on it is to waste more time that I can use in my new home. Someone else may sense those ghosts of history and do something for them, or the history, whatever it may be, will just keep on fading. It's as hard the 106-degree heat today, but that's the way it goes here. I mildly hope for it, but I don't count on it. I'm glad to have felt those ghosts, especially in Buena Park, Anaheim, Ventura, and San Juan Capistrano, where I know history will always be safe and acknowledged. But Santa Clarita has been a prime example of the kind of living I can't stand. I need history around me, I need to know what happened before I got there, and also long before, and I could never find that path into it here. Those ghosts will keep trying, though. I'm sure of it.


  1. I think about William S. Hart constantly. I pray for him unceasingly. I want to put a statue of him in my yard.


    P.S. Remind me please -- who is William S. Hart?

    1. He was a famous silent film actor who made westerns, and then retired to Newhall, which is part of Santa Clarita. No idea why the district was named after him, but there it is.

    2. Oh, yes. I remember that name now. Thank you.