At the top of the staircase scaling Barnsdall Park are two men in neon-colored martial-arts garb listening to a director on the landing below. He holds a video camera on a tripod and waves about his arms; his backward baseball cap bears the words “Kung-Fu.” To the right of the men, on the small patio looking north toward Los Feliz, stand two slender women costumed in either the white dress Marilyn Monroe wore when a subway blew up her skirt or, more likely, the flowing garb we imagine on Greek goddesses. Deeper into the park at the top of the hill, two women, clothed in shiny, floral-print two-pieces that reveal Crunch-caliber abs and legs, engage in sword battle, their plastic blades clacking against each other as they twist and kick and thrust.
The park’s southeast corner overlooks another staircase and, below and to the right, a table of people taking a drawing class. I leave a message for my boy Ryan in San Diego, describing the kung-fu vibe, and then call my Pop. I’ve been meaning to tell him about seeing Ray Bradbury at the book festival a few weeks ago. Turns out Dad is in Grand Rapids at the Gerald Ford Museum, so we keep it short. For the next half hour, I read two stories from Josh Goldfaden’s Human Resources, “Looking at Animals” and “Disorder Destroyers,” which follow characters who surreptitiously peek in on the lives of others.
Between stories, I glance down at the staircase, where first a trickle and then a stream of Asian families climb up into the park. Parents stand in groups and children run around the terrace below me. Meanwhile, the sword fighters have taken their face-off to the center of the park. They are surrounded by the director, the martial-arts guys (who have yet to duel), a couple backup fighting ladies, and a baby in a stroller. The goddesses are absent.
After finishing the second story, I turn to go. The park has become more populated. Along the paths, among the trees, on the grass, the sword battle rages, pausing every so often while the director recommends a different move or position; an Indian woman holds her daughter’s ankles in a game of wheelbarrow as the girl walks on her hands; the goddesses float by; various families, Asian and otherwise, flit about; a kung-fu diva pushes the stroller. I walk through all this, and turn to see, down a path, the goddesses off by themselves, framed by the surrounding pines and hazy skyline. They look back at me. I almost wave.
I pass three moving vans during the walk home. Out of one exits a young woman in distracting shorts saying she’s stepped on something that has almost, but not quite, broken skin. Farther north, a man pushes a grocery cart overflowing with cans and bottles. One of them emits a steady leak that draws a line of drops marking the path he’s taken. The drops end after a couple blocks, where the emerging sun dries them on the sidewalk.
At home, I make a tuna-melt sandwich and play Los Abandoned, thinking, Is there any band right now that better describes this city? During “Pantalón,” I consider the satisfying dissonance found in a nasally, English-speaking Midwesterner tunelessly singing along in Spanish with a Chilean vocalist from a Los Angeles band.
Later, on the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf patio, I take a seat near the most gorgeous girl in Los Feliz. She is a redheaded picture of pale perfection whose big blue eyes are protected by long lashes. Dressed in cutoffs and a tank top bearing various city names, she’s absorbed in a book, I assume for a college class. After a while, she moves to a farther, shadier table, allowing me to better concentrate on my writing.