Jenny Burman Jenny Burman
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from Echo Park

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Vintage slime/A beautiful park

Echo Park lotusEcho Park Lake, the heat has broken. I walk down to the Lake with my daughter. The lotus flowers are now, gloriously, almost in full bloom, their huge satellite-receiver leaves tilting toward outer space — "they missed the Lotus festival in mid-July, a result of cool spring weather, said the LA Times. The lotus thrive in slime, which makes me worry that when the city cleans the lake — Prop O funds are earmarked for the project — what will they do to preserve the lotus bed? Will they scour the lakebed and then add new slime to replace the toxic sludge they just spent zillions to scoop out? No imported slime could be quite the same as what we have spent decades developing here at Echo Park Lake. Piles of rice, fast food leavings, an occasional human corpse, bread and other treats for the ducks, decades of bird guano and turtle droppings and the garbage that people throw in just because they're brutal and don't care about clean water or because they're drunk. You can't import that! It's like San Francisco sour dough starter — you can' keep it going in Los Angeles! The air is too dry.

In all seriousness, I am thrilled they will clean the water at the lake, but I am concerned about the lotus and the turtles, water fowl and the residents who may have to wait a long time before the lake reopens.

So we pass the lotus flowers. I am thinking: I can see why these flowers have been depicted in religious art, beginning with the ancient Egyptians. My daughter, in her stroller, is chanting, "ducks, ducks." It's August now, and about half of the wild ducks have migrated, the American Wigeons, black-and white ring necks and others whose names I don't know, the small black water fowl with huge green feet — they are gone. What remains are restaurant ducks (very cute, the big white ones), and a few mallards. Earlier this year there were several ducks of mixed breed — white ones with black speckles or with tan color points, very beautiful -- but they are gone, too. I'll look for them when it gets cold up north (if it gets cold up north).

On the lake a single rented paddleboat tools around. There is a man seated on the grass with a music book open in front of him. He is playing acoustic guitar and singing. I'd like to stop and listen, and we do for about ten seconds, but it is clear that he is practicing, and I do not want to invade.

The geese are sunning on the island. There's even a little gaggle of ducklings. My daughter and I crouch next to a tree at the edge of the water to see the babies. They are downy and they look untainted by the filthy water -- unlike the turtles, which have strange black crust adhering to their shells.

A man with glassy eyes approaches.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he says. "I like your baby."

I meet his eyes and then pick up my daughter under one arm, pushing her stroller with the other, and we hurry away toward the play area to join the grandmothers and the little kids, at the north end of the park. So long, ducklings. Behind us, the man yells one more time, "I'm sorry!" Why he is sorry I do not care to know, though I wonder if it's for looking at us when I clearly prefer to be invisible to him. Or maybe it's an accusation, along the same lines.

I think about it for the length of time it takes me to get to the play-pit. There, my daughter plays with a child she has just met and who speaks to her in English, though the little girl calls out to her grandmother in Spanish.

I have been sitting next to the grandmother, in the shade of a royal palm, for about ten minutes when we hear a sudden loud crack, then more cracking, then the sound of an enormous eucalyptus branch starting to fall. The tree is about fifty feet from the play-pit. I look up, searching for the trimming crew and have just enough time to comprehend that there is none before the massive limb falls to the ground, which it smacks with tremendous force, its smaller branches bouncing before settling. Everything stops in the play area. There are some comments, all in Spanish. I understand just enough — about how a child could have been killed, the branch weighs as much as a truck. And then it's back to normal. The kids play. The women watch them. The grandmother says something to me in Spanish that I do not completely understand, something about the branch. I agree, yes it was very dangerous. We both nod and raise our eyebrows. When the ice cream vendor rolls his cart close to us she buys her granddaughter an ice cream bar. She sees that I am not getting one for my daughter, and she asks if she can buy one for her.

While I am not looking a pair of park and rec stay-away boards with orange stripes are quietly propped next to the branch, as though it could fall again.


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