MacArthur Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, shimmering green against shade and sun, palm trees and the dirty blue of the lake. It was full of families, there were even some people fishing. It was also full of people sleeping, forms stretched out in every patch of shade and lost to the world, lost to themselves. On the corner of 7th and Alvarado you can still buy anything, but there are fewer people selling then 10 years ago. Their faces are different, but the look is the same. Lean, hungry, watchful. They look me up and down; in a segregated Los Angeles where race almost always equals class and people stick to their own in both company and geography, I clearly do not belong. Usually I am happy that there is nowhere and nothing I belong too, it frees me to move between worlds, spending time in each with the people I love.
A small fat preacher was shouting into a megaphone, hurling words in Spanish of love and belonging, a yellow banner stretched between two trees, 25 folding chairs set up on the grass, a ragged crew of people clustered around him. Most slept on of course. “Quizas la proxima semana…” the preacher yelled, “perhaps next week you will stop smoking, perhaps next week you will pick up the phone and call your mother or your daughter, perhaps next week…” And the people listened, he called them up in revival style, “Tu hermanita, tu, necesitas salavacion, venga…” There is such desperate need for belonging, need for hope, the people came.
At the other end of the park another small fat preacher was screaming into a megaphone, suited and tied, his words were entirely of hell and the book of revelation. Everyone slept on, walked past as though he were not there. One of his associates blew a long animal horn of grey that curled upon itself, it sounded deep and echoed off the palm trees and no one listened. I myself dream that people will take responsibility for themselves and for the world, that people will cease to look for salvation as a gift and demand a better life as their right, that people will work to change what is broken…and what is not broken? My faith is that this is possible. I almost stole the megaphone but reflected that shouting at people in the street was hardly exemplary of my vision. Perhaps next week I will come back and smite it.
I walked past MacArthur Park because we had a reunion today, of everyone that had ever worked at CARECEN though I am sad to say not everyone was there…enough to make it enjoyable though. My friend Ruel made it quite enjoyable in fact, we met first at our old Winchell’s and had donuts and coffee. Winchell’s, with its perennial sign stating they have been “fresh and warm since 1948,” and an even better sign saying “CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN! 14 donuts!” It’s like an alternate universe really, that has been making me smile for 8 years now. I missed Don Tonito though, he used to sell artesanias and Salvadoran books on revolution and revolt. He lent me old tapes of boleros and home videos of when the FMLN marched back into San Salvador to sign the accords. He used to tell me stories about the guerrilla, like the time he was hiding with a companera in the end house of a long set of row houses. The military came searching house by house along the ground and there were more of them walking along the roofs so that no one could escape and he believed he was dead, when the roof of the house right beside theirs fell in under the weight of the soldier on top (good old poverty), and the soldier broke his leg. And that was enough to stop the search and save my friends’ life. Funny that most of the stories I know from El Salvador are tragic and brutal and still haunt me, it is only the stories of the fighters that have humour and hope in them. I wish I’d stayed in touch with him. But I’m back in touch with some other old friends though, and that is always a beautiful thing