Street Music #2

December 15, 2006. 4:15 pm. I’m in the left turn lane at Balboa Blvd and Chatsworth Street in Granada Hills, facing north, turning west. I grew up here, went to high school just down the road, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore. The Hughes at Devonshire and Balboa got eaten by Ralphs (for the worse) years ago. The Orange Julius I worked at has become a Korean BBQ. Across the street an old Ralphs has become a Walgreens, and the whole corner a McMiniMall. The local hospital is out of business, a wasted facility butted up against a once-anticipated expansion that never made it past the iron beam "jungle gym" that grows out of the weed patch and broken blacktop. It's still a nice neighborhood to be sure. Affordable. Its own "Main Street" -- Chatsworth -- retains its sense of community. A tidy quaintness remains -- no overgrowth of overbuilt homes, at least here, but for me, a melancholia as well. What could I expect? Time passes, people change.

Today the afternoon sky is pregnant with rain clouds and the street lights have come on early. In the rear view mirror I can still see the nursing home recede into the distance as the song comes on. I know I’m not supposed to like Coldplay; my son says they’re boring U2 lite. He’s right about the latter, but when the soft organ intro to “Fix You” starts, it fits perfectly with my overcast mood.

Thoughts of my mother, lying in bed, grumbling at having broken her ankle, determined to walk even it means falling on the floor when she gets out of bed in the middle of the night instead of using her call button. And when we speak, my realization that she lives in a very different world than I do – and I’m not speaking about location. Dementia set in a few years back and now the wave has crested and she is going under. It’s not Alzheimers; she’s not forgetting. She’s inventing a new reality that is alternately humorous and optimistic, and sad and scary. I hope she’s in a happier place. But today she flips from angry to innocent, from determined to vulnerable, and all I can do is sit there, nodding my head, occasionally correcting her, wondering if it helps at all, trying to calm and encourage her -- and feeling helpless. I can't fix it, and it's only going to get worse.

“Fix You” fits the sentiment. It seems to me like Chris Martin’s pledge to his child to try and fix things for her as she encounters life, to be there, “When you lose something you can’t replace, when you love someone and it goes to waste ...”

But what happens when the tables are turned and the promiser’s life is no longer filled with promise and the promise of care and intercession can’t be kept? What happens when the child is father to the man or woman, as the case may be? My parents raised me. My father’s long gone. My mother may be around for a long while, but not be here at all.

By the time “Fix You” shifts from the contemplative into musical overdrive, I’m racing along Chatsworth Street through upper Northridge, zooming along an unintended racetrack created by no traffic, no pedestrians, and the sand/pink masonry walls on both sides that defined new neighborhoods in the ‘60s, designed to create a sense of enclosure before there were gated communities, to keep out the people who don’t use the sidewalks anyway. Backyards facing the boulevards. Exclusion not inclusion. My mother slowly fading behind a wall of her own that even with the best of intentions and the best care I can't breach.

But the speed is invigorating and now I’m into the song's crescendo and suddenly I feel like a newborn bursting out of a birth sac, blood and placenta, morose thoughts, the past dripping, blowing off, self-cleansing in the rush.

By the time I get to Tampa, expecting to go straight through to Corbin, I’m in the wrong lane and have to recover my senses, make a sharp left, and head south. My life feels like it’s taken a sharp turn, too, but not as sharp as my mother’s, or the turns I know are yet to come.

Crossing Devonshire, the song fades. Instinctively, I find the CD controls, push repeat, focus on the Santa Monica mountains in the distance, and try to make it home before the rain.


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