Landing in L.A. for this chapter of promoting my novel The Closet of Discarded Dreams reminded me that I portrayed this city in my first published short story, LAX Confidential, in Latinos in Lotusland. I based the first segment of that story on a trip umpteen years earlier, before I'd turned serious writer. In a sense I've come full circle, setting off now to see how los angelenos would take to my biggest published work.
El tráfico and the traficantes
To accomplish that, I first had to negotiate the freeways and byways of the present-day City of Angeles. Problem was that here, negotiation wasn't integral to highway driving. True, I occasionally spotted instances of courtesy or cooperation between drivers, just rarely.
It took two vulnerable days on the road to learn that speed limits apply only where there are residential speed bumps--and even only for self-preservation of self and one's car--and most of the time in school zones. Otherwise, 75mph is the prevailing minimum speed. I finally removed my eyes from the speedometer and relied on surrounding vehicles to inform me whether I drove too slow or fast; it was never the latter.
Denver is still a cow town. The Californios' habit of 75mph lane changes--sideways!--reinforced that. Denverites can drive at 65 or 70 but will allow full car lengths or more of space to develop between them and the auto in front. Not so in El Lay. Leave just half a car length open in front of you and the vacuum gets sucked up by the blur of another car plugging up the gap. And all the while surrounding commuters continue their 75mph flow. I suffered automotive culture shock during my time there and after returning to Denver, as well. My blood pressure elevates somewhat when I recall the experience.
For an hour before a book reading René and I walked the halls and grounds of At the Mission San Fernando in Mission Hills, Califas (1797), a popular attraction less attended on a Sun. afternoon. The immaculately manicured gardens and walkways at that hour were shielded from L.A. noise and traffic, wind and sun.
The quiet stillness imparted a sense of bounty and wealth, what the ruling class Californios have always enjoyed. That the adobe, rock and native wood structures were built by the labor of Indian slaves or peones is not evident during our time there, though I might have heard the screams and moans of antepasado gente who labored to erect it all had I but stopped to listen to the wisps of history.
We traversed much of the Mission, resting on a bench where I bounced ideas off René about my next novel. An incredibly entertaining teacher, a prolific children's books author, this short, amiable, usually low-voiced ex-Salvadoreño incisively dissected components of my plot and characters and in the space of half an hour provided me sufficient guidance to run with the composition. The man's invaluable insights were something I should have had to pay hundreds of dollars for. Next time, I'm skipping workshops for just an afternoon with el Maestro Colato Laínez.
To break up the Author-Author routine, one night René Colato Laínez directed me to Universal Studios CityWalk. My novel's Closet otherworld is a contrast of unbounded horizontalness vs. a 20 ft. ceiling that continually oppresses The Chicano hero. The overall sense of CityWalk is the opposite: despite open sky above, the limited walking space for people and their numbers likewise imparts a unique crowdedness that results in similar sensations.
What struck me more about attractions like CityWalk was how they demonstrate Califas' 1% tossing loaves of bread to the masses as our distant military "lions" munch on middle-eastern "Christians." The tram ride up the hill to reach the place is free, no entry fee, nor required purchases, which is good for the millions that come every year, because a mixed drink and a soda cost us over $20. At the same time, the locale provides thousands of young people a relatively safe venue to be seen and entertained despite being unable to purchase any piece of Universal. A brilliant opiate in the midst of the opulence.
Most of what I learned in L.A. came not from conferences, but from charlando like at Michael Sedano's, out on the patio, an iced brandy in hand, an undetermined agenda on our table. What I'd expected to meet for the first time at Casa Sedano was a creature who ate author's novels and spit out frank, cutting critiques like L.A. spits out its miasma of smog. I'll tell you, gente, turns out Sedano is not as ugly in person as his La Bloga headshot would indicate. No, really. A tough critiquer, sí, pero no tan feo.
Trapped out back of Casa Sedano, surrounded by palm trees on the left, unnaturally huge hens-n-chick succulents, a swimming pool serving as a moat in the foreground and to our right several exotic flowering shrubs that belonged in a photo of the Guatemalan Petén jungle, I had nowhere to turn when Sedan ordered me to practice my reading of The Closet on him.
Nor was escape possible as he explained the weaknesses, gaps and hokeyness indicated by my presentation. I felt as marooned as The Chicano in my novel, though more affected by the brandy and sunshine, both of which are nonexistent in my otherworld.
Eventually I accepted that I was better off without an avenue of retreat because no matter I didn't always concur with the oratory gospel-according-to-Sedano, he was right-on in nearly every example or question he raised. However imperfect my future readings prove, their better quality will be largely attributable to that patio and persona.
In part 2 tomorrow, I cover Latinopia y Jesus Treviño, the Latino Book & Family Festival, my reading at Tía Chucha's, a Siquieros mural that Sedano covered this week, y otras cositas.
Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, aka Rudy Ch. Garcia, author of The Closet of Discarded Dreams
Oct. 24-31, Garcia will be reading from his novel in Houston at the River Oaks Bookstore; in San Antonio at the SW Workers Union Underground Library, The Twig Book Shop and at Palo Alto College. Click here for details.
Garcia's author interviews can be heard on Tue. Oct 23, 7:30pm CST on Tony Diaz's Nuestra Palabra - Latino Writers Having Their Say, KPFT 90.1fm in Houston, and seen on the Great Day San Antonio daytime program, KENS5 TV in San Anto, Sun. Oct. 28 starting at noon.