Monday, June 25, 2012


Santa Monica is a beautiful place with beautiful people. If I didn’t live here I would have it high on my list of destinations with its contoured coastline, pier, palisades, promenade, old ficus with slithering roots, palms as tall as lighthouses, coral trees with red lanterns, rolling fog, boardwalk, bike paths, life on the streets, and the funk.

There are certain things so ugly they are beautiful in their deviation from the agreed-upon, like the narrative embedded in an aged face, the sunset smeared with polluted air, old masonry passing from squalor to quaint, the beauty of authenticity, of truth.

Take Lincoln Blvd; so void of striking architecture, so choked with traffic, so pocked with fast-food joints and ridden with car-crazed businesses it is a paragon of Americana, one of those streets without pedestrians, ridden with drive-ins, auto repair, car washes, quick lube, smog tests, car lots, motorcycle shops, and car rentals. You have to love it for the mirror it holds up to our obsession with wheels.

There is a kind of beauty even in broken dreams, in the residue, the face of those down on their luck. You want to say, Hello in there, as in the John Prine song, to the bag lady with all her earthly goods tied like appendages, in plastic bags, to a shopping cart, her wheels. And there’s a beauty of hope and resilience in the eyes of the homeless fishing for redemption in recyclables.

Ocean Park, where we live, is a beautiful mix, an area bordering Venice in what real estate agents call a nonconforming neighborhood undesirable for resale but most desirable for a mottled array of humanity, retired folks by the grace of rent control, artists eking out a living, screenwriters waiting for a text or tweet, dog-walkers and yuppies who bought Apple at six. There are new Infinities alongside ‘62 Beetles. Hedge-trimmers next to hedge fund operators. Second careers and no careers. The possessed and the dispossessed.

Main St. is a funky stretch on its way to gentrification with a Carnegie library (1918) on one end and a binoculars-shaped building on the other. It is the place where Richard Diebenkorn had a studio a few decades back and produced his Ocean Park Series of abstract paintings. Some were inspired by what he saw outside his window and others look like aerial views of the region. His palette captured the distinctive light of this area just as Matisse had done for the south of France. Diebenkorn’s work contains layers of color that seem to give way to an under-paint which suggests the presence of a recent past, mimicked by the shops on Main street, also ephemeral in the way they are here today, then gone; the impermanence of life.

Beauty is one of those words under constant revision and for many, a limp and hollow adjective, no longer an operative term. My preference is to keep and expand the meaning, from the jacarandas of Eleventh St. to the all-night Laundromats on Lincoln.

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