Sunday, June 5, 2011
Earlier Than You Think
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
One of the phenomena I have contended with since I've been in the Pacific time zone is the vague feeling that it is later than it really is. It has nothing to do with the sun; indeed the sun suggests that the time is or should be about what the clock says it is. I get up earlier, and I go to bed earlier, as if I were still in the east. Gradually and eventually I imagine this feeling will subside.
My theory is that this is from a lifetime of living in the Eastern zone where it's three hours later. After a while the body's ability to sense what time it is becomes synched to the "dominant" zone, the one in which one spends the majority of one's time. The more years in the zone, the more strongly the sense of it is built in. We are familiar with the general idea of being out of step with local time on a short-term basis, which we call "jet lag," but I don't know if I've ever read or heard anything about how it plays out in the longer term.
Last Sunday, June 5, the world was supposed to come to an end, completely. Lights out. Or as the poet Yeats said, "Black out. Heaven blazing into the head." Thus spake my friend the Only Begotten Son of God (hereinafter referred to as the OBSOG), the bearded denizen of Hollywood Boulevard, back in February. So on the morning of Monday the 6th, with the sun shining as usual here in California, I went looking for the OBSOG, not to challenge him or gloat--he was a rather sweet guy, and held the same views about the Republicans as me--but in the hope of a reasoned explanation of some kind. Besides, why should I revel in, or even take comfort from, the fact that all this is not going to end? Sometimes I look around and wish I could warm to the certitude of the crazed millennialists like Harold Camping and the OBSOG, or even regular garden variety Christians, regarding the eventual happy second coming. My own feeling on the subject is closer to the one I got the other night while sitting uncomfortably through the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, saying over and over, from about a third of the way through, "Well, it can't last forever." Not nearly soon enough, as it transpired. I had only seen the first of these cinematic turds, back in '03, and based on that was thinking this one might have something of a plot involving human beings. Wrong. I like Johnny Depp (and Keith Richards, who made a quick appearance in this one, too) and made the mistake of thinking it might be good because he was in it, rather than that he had become another of the many Whores of Babylon.
Anyway, bright and early Monday, at a little before noon, I locked my car in front of the Museum of Death on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Gower, where the two-hour free parking spaces end. I ambled west, past empty store fronts, dirty lingerie shops, and souvenir t-shirt stores, nearing the heart of the tourist district. Excited Germans paused on street corners to take one another's pictures with the HOLLYWOOD sign in the background. Around them ambled the human marginalia of this particular page of life--raggedy bag women, over-made-up costumed wackos, old gone wrinkled cowboys come to spend their golden years in whiskey and handouts. I looked for some sign of the OBSOG, maybe his pull-behind two-wheeled grocery cart packed with black plastic bags packed in turn with who knows what (standard issue for self-respecting street people), or his sign warning of the impending end of days. Eventually I decided to start inquiring about him among the people who looked as if they spent all day there, nearly every day.
The first person I asked was a huckster of indeterminate nationality, but probably from one of the southern Slavic countries or maybe Armenia. He said he knew who I was talking about, and that he usually hung out farther west, near Hollywood and Highland. Up at that intersection the second person I approached was a young good-looking Middle Eastern guy of about 30 who was selling tours of the homes of the stars. I asked him if he had seen "the End of the World guy," with the beard and the shopping cart. He knew the OBSOG by my description right away, but said he said he hadn't seen him for a week or so. "What's wrong?" he asked. I said that nothing was wrong, just that I wondered where he was today.
"Don't worry," he reassured me in his thick Arabic accent. "Nobody can say when is end of the world. Jesus no say. Mohammad no say. Ibrahim no say. Only God says. Have a good time, relax." I said I really wasn't worried about that, but merely wished to speak to the guy. I explained that he had predicted that the end of the world would happen yesterday. I could tell that although the Arab had rather enjoyed this momentary diversion, I was beginning to waste his time. And he was wasting mine.
Other reactions from the Hollywood tour and map-of-the-stars salesmen were predictably similar. There was, I sensed, a loose solidarity among the everyday folk of the boulevard. One young man asked me, laughing, if I was looking for him to get my life savings back. My first thought was to answer, "Do I look like a complete idiot?" Then it hit me. Of course I look like a complete idiot, to him and all the regulars. I look just like the rest of the goofy tourists from middle America and Europe who traipse up and down the street, gawking, taking snapshots, posing in front of the Chinese Theater with people dressed as Spiderman or Elvis or Shrek or Darth Vader. Why else would I even be here? On Hollywood Boulevard you're either selling or buying. And if by chance you should be wandering aimlessly, the Church of Scientology lies patiently in wait, a wolf among lambs.
Meanwhile, even absent the OBSOG, there was no shortage of religious types afoot. Near the Chinese Theater I passed a pair of amateur musicians playing softly while handing out tiny tracts identifying themselves as a German outfit predicting the end of the world in December 2012--12/12ers, I guess you could call them. Then, to my surprise, I came to a pair of young Mennonites, also handing out pamphlets, offering merely garden-variety Christian salvation, minus the imminent cataclysm. I stopped to talk to a young man of this persuasion, who informed me that a large group of them had traveled to Los Angeles to save souls, and were staying in a hotel. I said I didn't realize the Mennonites were evangelists, and he told me that at least his group was. The guys were mostly clean shaven and conservatively dressed, and the women wore full-length print dresses from which sensible gym shoes protruded, and little white lace bonnets on the backs of their heads. As in west Texas, I was struck by how homely they were--the girls especially. Inbreeding, I suspect. At one corner an a capella choir of about twenty of them earnestly sang hymns--regular church hymns I recognized from my own childhood. The voices, at least, were pretty. I paused and leaned against a palm tree and absorbed the sweetness of the sound, traveling back half a century in my mind.
When I got to Orange Street I asked another local, who told me that he knew of the OBSOG, but that I had ventured a bit beyond his territory, which he said was strictly between Vine and Highland, on the south side of Hollywood Boulevard. That had indeed been where I'd seen him on Oscar night. I began walking west again, carefully scrutinizing all the people with those shopping carts and huge plastic bags, ranging through the trash cans, looking for redeemable empties rather than redeemable souls. In a little courtyard set back from the sidewalk in front of some sort of cheesy museum I asked a homeless Japanese man if he'd seen my bearded End of the World guy. He was more precise than the others. "Not today," he said, his bloodshot eyes scanning me warily. "But last week." Why did I want to know? the eyes said silently. This man's information I instinctively took to be a bit more reliable than that of the tour people, because this guy probably knew where the OBSOG spent his nights, back on the side streets behind dumpsters. But I didn't want to invade anyone's home, only to see him here on the street, in his element. I did venture down El Centro to an alleyway, where the empty bottle and can people looked at me furtively, just as the residents of a suburban cul-de-sac might eye a scruffy stranger to their domain.
I didn't find the OBSOG this time, but I haven't given up hope. No doubt he's busy recalculating, not to mention revising his manifesto to accommodate the obvious fact that it's earlier than he thought it was. These things happen. Calculations, unlike the mighty adversaries in the battle of Armageddon, are only human.