in Los Angeles, a day before she goes back to New York for God only knows what lunatic reason,
my friend Periel encourages me to write this essay.
"You should write something about architecture,
"she tells me. "That always seems…"
And, after a pause:
Periel has already published a piece
about architecture in her life, and is understandably confident in the correlation. I'm not so
sure about my prospects, and therefore not so convinced.
"What have I ever written about architecture?"
"What have I ever written about architecture?"
Periel wants to know.
It's true: In her piece for a west coast architecture
zine called Loudpaper, Periel wrote about an architect, but not much about architecture
"This is the problem," I tell her. "Between the two of us,
we only know one architect, and you already wrote about her."
"So write something else," Periel says.
She looks at me.
In Los Angeles, important conversations always take place
in the car. Last year, during a rather heated and high-stakes one, Periel and I had the
misfortune of actually getting home, to the loft apartment we share with a rotating cast
of mildly irritating sub-leasers.
in Los Angeles, our beds were separated by a passageway of floor, as wide as the
length of my arm from the elbow to the tips of the fingers. Physically, this cut of
space was inconsequential, but symbolically it was everything..."
It was clear that the conversation could not possibly
continue on solid ground, and so, after idling for a moment in front of our building, we
pulled out into the traffic on Pico Boulevard again and continued driving until the high-stakes
conversation was finished. In the end, we'd driven nowhere and concluded nothing. We have a
troublesome relationship. We have been too close for too long but we seem to be addicted to
each other. I talk to her and she writes about me. She tells me to send essays to people like
Mimi Zeiger and then beats me to the punch. She shares this loft apartment with me in Los
Angeles but spends at least half her time in New York, and when she's in New York her rent
checks never get to me on time.
Three years ago, when we first came together to Los
Angeles, we shared a small one-bedroom apartment, and after eight months I had begun to
lose my mind. I fell head-over-heels in love with a short, blonde aspiring actress named
Courtney who didn't know where her own clitoris was. I have since discovered that I was not,
in fact, in love with her, but just desperate for a place to spend nights other than the
bedroom into which Periel had, rather unceremoniously, shoved our two queen-sized beds.
It was an arrangement no less troublesome than our relationship. One of us always wanted
to go to sleep and the other always wanted to stay up reading. I solved the problem by
buying us a pair of matching foldable reading lights. Mine was red and yellow, like malaria,
and hers the black and blue of a bruise. She left ground turkey in the sink and when I cleaned
the bathroom I threw paper towels in the toilet and later faeces backed up into the tub.
Then I met Courtney. She looked like Britney Spears with
thicker thighs and slightly less incisive eyes.
"I have a bedroom," she said.
* * *
when Periel was writing the piece about architecture that would eventually be published.
"Read this." She handed me two sheets of paper.
Oh, Heidegger, she was calling the essay. On
Loving an Architect.
I remember nothing about the essay itself, but the title
inspired me to write a book called Dreaming of Heidegger, which estranged me from an
agent named Lisa Bankoff at International Creative Management who, before I sent her that
manuscript, had maintained an enthusiastic, if largely inactive support, for my work.
"Eventually," she wrote to me in response to Dreaming
of Heidegger, "you'll learn to control yourself, and then, with your unmistakable ear for
dialogue, you'll create something worthwhile."
She was a fair woman, in the end. She reminded me of my
Aunt Hillary, mostly due to her thin lips and her slightly embittered disposition. The first
time I met Lisa I was twenty-four years old, staying with an evil old girlfriend on the Lower
East Side of Manhattan, and suffering from strep throat. I was determined not to blow my
first meeting with a bona fide literary agent, so I took a lot of Tylenol and caught a cab
to the ICM offices which are located on one side or another, or at one end or the other, of
Central Park, in a building that looks like a doorman (architecturally-speaking), and also
Two weeks later I got an email from Lisa: She looked
forward to reading the manuscripts I had left with her, but unfortunately her young son was
suffering from strep throat and she was busy taking care of him. She would get back to me as
soon as possible.
Periel, on the other hand, was a big fan of Dreaming
of Heidegger. While she was reading it, she was also writing a memoir, which would
eventually be purchased by Penguin. My name, and the name of that particular novel, figured
prominently in the original manuscript of that memoir, but since then her editor at Penguin
has excised any mention of me from the text. But, resiliently, I have survived, slightly
disguised on the page of thank yous. "EE," reads one of them. "For whom there are no words,
what can I offer but them?"
Money, I'm thinking. Rent. You can offer up
your rent on time.
* * *
bedroom that we shared in the first apartment that we shared in Los Angeles, our beds were
separated by a passageway of floor, as wide as the length of my arm from the elbow to the tips
of the fingers. Physically, this cut of space was inconsequential, but symbolically it was
everything and that, I suppose, is a bit of architecture in this essay intended for an
architecture magazine. That cut of space, as wide as the length of my arm from the elbow to
the tips of the fingers, was a hallway, a doorway, a river or a chasm, a divide as wide as
the country that separates us now.
I am at my desk at the community college that I teach at
in Orange County and she is in New York City, three hours later, already pushing dusk, doing
something very different no doubt, and yet the space that separates us now is no wider, no
more unbreachable, than the space that separated my bed from hers in the one-bedroom apartment
we shared for over a year in a section of Los Angeles whose name, in the three years that
I have lived here, has changed from Faircrest Heights to PicFair Heights and now, finally,
to PicFair Village. That cut of space, no wider than the length of my arm from the elbow to
the tips of the fingers, was the curtain that separates the men from the women at shul,
the membrane that keeps apart desire and pain.
* * *
the essay was called. "On Loving an Architect."
I said: "I didn't know I was an architect."
And then I wrote a book called Dreaming of Heidegger.
It was not the finest book I have ever written. Re-reading
it, recently, at the behest of a new agent, I was mildly disappointed. A solid quarter of it
seemed naïve, nervous, overwritten, and so I cut that burdensome twenty-five percent out like
a tumour, lopped it off and re-read the manuscript again to see if it could still stand. I am
not a re-reader or an editor, in general. I am interested in text as an event, an eruption not
volcanic but linguistic and therefore human, and I believe with the faith of a man praying at
shul that it should remain as is, that the real text, the text we should be reading, is
the text that comes out the first time, the text that is the residue, the trace left behind by
the act or the event or the accident of writing. But there were places in Dreaming of
Heidegger where the book was so obviously reading itself even as I was writing it, and if
the book had been published and those ripples had remained, I would have been fine with
that--if the book had been published, I never would have re-read it in the first place--but
once I had encountered them I felt obliged to take them away.
Upon further consideration, the book
still stood (is this architecture?), but my own enthusiasm for it did not. I was twenty-five when I
wrote that book and I’m twenty-eight now, and I’ve written books since then--and had written
books before then--that are better, and which I care about more. In response to Lisa
Bankoff’s response to Dreaming of Heidegger, I wrote her a letter that included the following:
“If I have provoked ire in you, then I must be doing something right.”
Now what could I say?
Sorry for giving your son strep throat.
* * *
At the time
of the strep throat and the evil old girlfriend on the Lower East Side and the meeting with Lisa, I
was going to graduate school in Tucson, Arizona. This is where I picked up Periel. During my
first year of graduate school, my girlfriend came to live with me, but I was there to write books
and to be left alone, and girlfriends who come to Tucson, Arizona to live with you are going to
get bored and want attention. The girlfriend was named Jessie. I was a student in the Fiction
division of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arizona and Periel was in Poetry,
all of this with capital letters (is this architecture?). I thought she would make a fine friend for
Jessie: Periel has a good fashion sense and Jessie, well, she had a fashion sense, but it wasn’t
particularly good. She stood to learn something.
As I recall, I was the one who encouraged Jessie to
look into studying urban planning. Jessie was an artist without a medium and one of these
Midwesterners who grew up dreaming of big cities and fancy scarves. In Tucson, she was
working as a secretary at the main office for the county’s Head Start schooling program, and
one day she came home crying. At a Head Start in Bisbee, or Douglas, or somewhere, there
had been an angry standoff with the armed parent of a student.
“It was so terrible,” Jessie said, sobbing, of her
day at the office during this not-so-distant crisis. “So real. Or unreal. It was definitely one of the two.”
As I recall, the news that night
reported that, after all, the parent had been wielding a cap gun.
Authorities would press charges nonetheless.
Jessie moved to New York and enrolled in
NYU’s urban planning department. She aspired to be the next Jane Jacobs and talked in
a thinly-veiled language of desire about her department’s young superstar professor, Paul Smoke.
“I’ve been Smoked,” she told me after
she had been unable to answer one of Smoke’s questions in class, but she could hardly hide
the glee in her voice.
Yeah, I’ll bet you’d like to smoke Smoke’s,
if you get my drift.
Jessie did not leave me for Paul Smoke, though.
She left me for a friend of our friend Mandy’s who she had met the weekend before the week
that I was in New York meeting with agents and suffering from strep throat. So be it. I was
dating a sexy undergraduate student in my Creative Writing Class (definitely all capital letters),
which was more scandalous yet. Take that, trollop!
* * *
essay, “Oh, Heidegger: On Loving an Architect” was written in homage to her friend Mari Fujita,
and so this is not the first time that Mari Fujita has been written about in an essay about
architecture written by someone who knows little about architecture.
suburbs depend on the phantom of downtown for their existence. Here, there’s no
such phantom. Here, when you get out of your car, you disappear into an exterior
that is inside of your interior."
So it goes. Periel knew
by way of Mari, and I know Mari by way of Periel, and because
published one of Periel’s essays Periel thinks that writing about architecture is
a good idea and a good way to get published, and because Periel also likes my work, even that
mediocre novel Dreaming of Heidegger
which once figured prominently in a memoir that is
forthcoming from Penguin but has since been excised, and because she likes my work and wants it
to be published as often as possible, she has recommended that I too write a piece about architecture,
and in following through on her suggestion and trying to write something about architecture, I am
clearly trying to say something about architecture, but alas I only know one architect, Mari Fujita,
and so it seems inevitable that, like Periel, I will end up writing about her. So here she is again, Mari Fujita,
a fixture in essays about architecture by writers who know little about architecture, perhaps even a
motif. And perhaps this paragraph is the architecture of a motif, or rather the architecture of a motif
turned inside out. This paragraph is the Centre Pompidou of the literary or textual motif.
Twenty-four years old, finishing my second
year of graduate school in Tucson, Arizona, I was planning on moving to New York City to
be with Jessie, but then what happened happened. Jessie left me or I left her, we left each
other, and what mattered more was that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t
stay in Tucson. Only weird people did that. I couldn’t go to New York City. I hated it. I
mean, I hated Jessie. Or it. Or both. I hated Jane Jacobs.
The I-10 runs along one side of Tucson, Arizona,
and seven hours later due west cuts through the heart of Los Angeles. In Tucson’s old barrio,
I lived near that highway, close enough to see it but far enough away that it was quiet. It was a
river. Here, in Los Angeles, it is the river that connects us to the country we do not live in. The
rest of you live in that country. In New York City, like it or not, you live in that country, but out
here we’re on our own.
In Tucson, I used to walk across a vacant dirt lot
between my house and Periel’s house, and as I walked I could watch the I-10 flowing. Periel
suggested that we move together to Los Angeles-I suppose it was more a suggestion than a
request. Walking home, I looked at the I-10. In a forgettable short story called “The Harmony
of the Spheres,” Salman Rushdie describes the Jubilee Bonfires “flowering along the spine of
the countryside.” The I-10 was like that, but without the flowers and the countryside. It was
just a spine. The back of a fish. It was the same highway there as in Los Angeles, and thus,
standing close enough to see it, I could imagine Los Angeles, and so I said yes. So I went.
We came, and this is how my life has gone since then:
1. I moved
into a one-bedroom apartment with Periel.
fell in love with Courtney, who looked like Britney Spears but with
thicker thighs and slightly
more uncomprehending eyes.
parents bought her a house in which she could aspire to
acting, and I moved in with
her; approximately three weeks later, for
the first time, I noticed that
she was neither mysterious nor
enigmatic, but actually kind of stupid. No offence.
forgave me for moving out on her. We agreed to get back
together the following year.
following year we found our space: a three thousand square
foot loft in a decrepit building on Pico Boulevard in Mid-City Los
Angeles, a region
of the city not even worthy of a name, not a
stone’s throw from the I-10. Three thousand square feet. Small
enough for us to find each other, but big enough that we can forget
that the other exists.
A few weeks ago, Mari Fujita was in town staying at
our apartment. She expressed enthusiasm for Los Angeles, the kind of enthusiasm that I would expect
from her. She is an architect, and officially architects should not like Los Angeles, and therefore smart
and subversive architects will no doubt decide that they do
like Los Angeles and go about
figuring out why.
I articulated something along these lines
to her. Was she impressed? She told me to read a book by Reyner Banham called Los Angeles: The
Architecture of Four Ecologies
. What is this? An architect telling me to read a book? I’m not telling
her what buildings to go look at. Hey, you’re an architect. Why don’t you check out the new Disney
It was a good book. I learned from it that Los Angeles
was not, as most people assume, built for the automobile; it was built for the trains and simply well-suited
to the automobile as a result. Banham explains that to really see Los Angeles, you have to be moving.
“I learned to drive,” he says, “so I could read Los Angeles.” Los Angeles, the city
, is the place that
you see moving at thirty miles per hour. The place that you see at the speed of a pedestrian is pure
wilderness. When you are in your house, or walking to your car, you are not in Los Angeles. You are
on a desert island, deep in the woods, at some distant outpost. At thirty miles per hour, and not much
slower, you suddenly find yourself in a city.
Two fellows wander together around my neighbourhood
in the mornings. One is a cowboy. He has a white moustache and dresses in boots and a cowboy hat.
In the evenings, he stands with his elbows on his fence, watching the traffic on Pico. The other is a
Korean who also has a white moustache but wears a baseball cap in place of a cowboy hat. When he
is ready to walk, the cowboy stands outside the Korean’s gate and whistles. The Korean comes out.
They walk. Then they come back to the gate outside the Korean’s house and say goodbye.
“See you later, mayor of Los Angeles,” the Korean says.
“See you later, governor of California,” says the cowboy.
And they are. Or they might as well be.
* * *
I am applying to
a graduate program in Critical Theory (capital letters) at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.
Do I want to go back to school again? Maybe. Not really. Sort of. I want to do something different next
year. I want to be able to take out student loans so I can pay off my credit cards (an economic architecture?).
In one mildly humiliating essay for the application, we are asked to talk about three figures who have
influenced us. Because he has convinced me for the moment to stay in Los Angeles, I choose Reyner
Banham as one of the three.
“He’s not really one of my biggest influences, but for
purposes of this application he could be considered as such. After more than three years of living in
Los Angeles, I was pretty certain that the gig was up. I still had abstract enthusiasm--reminiscent of the
enthusiasm one finds in Baudrillard’s America--for the rather extreme experience, but in practice it
was starting to feel like a drag. I was planning to apply to schools only in places very far away from Los
Angeles. Then an architect friend of mine recommended Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of
In it, he insists that instead of proving that Los Angeles
doesn’t work by demonstrating its failure to adhere to a very particular model of urban design
derived from humanistic renaissance principles (i.e., the Jane Jacobs model), we need to deal with the fact
that, for a lot of people who come here and live here and stay here, it does work, and start trying to
understand why. Reading that book breathed new life into my life in Los Angeles. I’m once again ready
to embrace the fact that, like so many surfers, druggies, and artists before me (alas, I’m neither surfer nor
druggie), I can do my thing here. And that’s okay.”
In my head, I’m thinking: The suburbs depend on the
phantom of downtown for their existence. Here, there’s no such phantom. Here, when you get out
of your car, you disappear into an exterior that is inside of your interior. I think: I like it on my desert
island. I think I’ll stay awhile.
* * *
interested in the program at the ArtCenter College of Design when I learned that Sylvere Lotringer,
the founder of Semiotext(e), had taught there. Sylvere’s daughter Mia, as it turns out, is a friend of
Mari Fujita’s. Mari once lived in Sylvere’s apartment in New York City. At the time, he was working
on a book for Semiotext(e) called Foucault Live, and because she was around while he was
working on it, and helped out around the house and with some of the research, as I’ve understood it,
Mari appears in the thank yous at the beginning of Foucault Live, as later I will appear--or
my initials, at the very least, the unmistakable EE--in the thank yous at the front, or the back, of Periel’s
memoir, forthcoming, from which I and one particular not-so-favourite book of mine have been
unequivocally excised by an editor who has never met me or read the book.
And this much should be clear, as well: If I were to
leave Los Angeles, I would also be leaving our space, the three thousand square foot loft
apartment that I very much share with Periel even when she is as far away as New York City.
* * *
T his is the
architecture of an essay. Turned inside out.
* * *
T oday, in
Los Angeles, while we are driving in her car, Periel tells me, “You should write something
to write about? I only know one architect and my friend Periel has already written about her.
| © Eli S. Evans 2005.
Eli S. Evans lives in Los Angeles and teaches literature
and creative writing at Orange Coast College in Orange County,
California, USA. His short essays and fiction have been published widely. His novels, which are the true
fruits of his labour as a writer, continue to circulate within
the confines of his immediate family, and to languish in the hands of an aspiring literary agent, who
is not related to him but was recommended to him by a mutual acquaintance.
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