City of Night

From City of Night (1963). Courtesy Grove Atlantic.

I walk about the teeming park for the first time—past the statues of soldiers, one on each corner of the Hill Street side—past an ominous cannon on Olive, aimed defiantly at the slick wide-gleamingwindowed buildings across the streets: the banks, the travel agencies (representations of The Other World, to which I will flee recurrently in guilt and feel just as guilty for having abandoned, if never completely, the world of the parks, the streets)—past the statue of Beethoven with a stick, turning his back fiercely on the Pershing Square menagerie.

Throughout the park, preachers and prophets dash out Damnation! in a disharmony of sounds—like phonographs gone mad: locked in a block-square sunny asylum among the flowers and the palmtrees, fountains gushing gaily: Ollie, all wiry white hair, punctuating his pronouncements with threats of a citizen’s arrest aimed at the hecklers … Holy Moses, his hair Christlike to his shoulders, singing soulfully … the bucktoothed spiritual-singing Jenny Lu howling she was a jezebel-woman (woe-uh! ) until she Seed The Light (praise the Lord-uh! ) on the frontporch to Hell (holy holy Halleluj-uh! ), grinding, bumping at each uh! in a frenzied kind of jazz; and a Negro woman, sweating, quivers in coming-Lord-type ecstasy: “Lawd, Ahs dribben out da Debil! Ah has cast him back to Hell! Lawd, fill me wid Yuh Presence!”—uh! -ing in a long religious orgasm…. Gone preachers wailing receiving God: Saint Tex, who got The Word in Beaumont scorched one wined-up morning on the white horizon: BRING THE WORD TO SINNING CALIFORNIA! … And five young girls, all in white, the oldest about 16, stand like white candles waxing in the sun, all white satin (forgive my uncommitted sins! ), holding in turn a picture of Christ Crucified, and where the blood was coming, it was wax, which caught the light and shimmered like thick ketchup; and the five white angelsisters stand while their old man preaches Sinners! Sinners!! Sinners!!! —and the cutest of the angelsisters, with paradoxically Alive freckles snapping orange in the sun, and alive red sparkling hair, is giggling in the warm Los Angeles smog afternoon among the palmtrees—but the oldest is quivering and wailing, and one day, oh, I think, the little angelsister will see theres nothing to giggle about, Truly—her old man having come across with the rough Message, and of course she’ll start to quiver and wail where once she smiled, freckles popping in the sun…. And an epileptic youngman thanks God for his infirmity—his ponderous, beloved Cross To Bear….

Among the roses.

 And while the preachers dash out their damning messages, the winos storm Heaven on cheap wine; hungry-eyed scores with money (or merely with a place to offer the homeless youngmen they desire) gather about the head hunting the malehustlers and wondering will they get robbed if—… Pickpockets station themselves strategically among the crowds as if listening in rapt attention to the Holy Messages. And malehustlers (“fruithustlers”/“studhustlers”: the various names for the masculine young vagrants) like flitting birds move restlessly about the park—fugitive hustlers looking for lonely fruits to score from, anything from the legendary $20-up to a pad at night and breakfast in the morning and whatever you can clinch or clip…. And the heat in their holy cop uniforms, holy because of the Almighty Stick and the Almightier Vagrancy Law; the scattered junkies, the smalltime pushers, the teaheads, the sad panhandlers, the occasional lonely exiled nymphos haunting the entrance to the men’s head; more fruits with hungry eyes—the young ones searching for a mutual, unpaid-for partner; the tough teenage girls making it with the lost hustlers…. And—but mostly later at night, youll find, when the shadows will shelter them—queens in colorful shirtblouses—dressed as much like women as The Law allows that particular moment—will dish each other like jealous bitchy women, commenting on the desirability or otherwise of the stray youngmen they may offer a place for the night. And they giggle constantly in pretended happiness.

 And on the benches along the inside ledges, the pensioned old men and women sit serenely daily in the sun like retired judges separated now stoically from the world they once judged….

All!—all amid the incongruous music of the Welkian-Lombardian school of corn, piped periodically from somewhere along the ledges! All amid the flowers!—the twin fountains which will gush rainbowcolored verypretty at night. … The world of Lonely-Outcast America squeezed into Pershing Square, of the Cities of Terrible Night, downtown now trapped in the City of Lost Angels….

 And the trees hang over it all like some apathetic fate.