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AL MARTINEZ

Haunted by Images of Guns and Roses

March 12, 2001|AL MARTINEZ

Pssst.

Over here.

At the intersection of Spring Street and Blueberry Lane.

In the shop next to the feng shui studio and down the block from the place that sells home-knitted tea cozies.

They have moved me from L.A. Metro to where they keep the Other Columnists. That would be in SoCal. Jack Smith lived here once, in what used to be a nail parlor and before that, a topless juice bar.

It is not like the old place I occupied for so many years. No cowboy pool halls whose jukeboxes held 25 versions of "Okie From Muskogee." There is an organic garden in the square across the street and an oxygen bar where, it is said, Cher often drops by to sniff a little Oh-two.

One notices a certain civility in my new neighborhood. They say please and thank you here. They do not pick up pork chops with their fingers and scratch themselves in personal places.

It's a different world on Blueberry Lane.

However, I will try to adjust. I will not spill gin on their doilies. I will refrain from the use of old Marine Corps terms in moments of stress or displeasure.

"Be nice," my wife said as I left for work this morning, packing a brown bag with a peanut butter sandwich. "And don't touch anyone."

For the crowd in Orange County who do not know me from Adam's dog, I am a fixture in L.A., as commonplace as a beer can on the beach. I'm a sort of wandering troubadour, a singer of people and street corners, of dreams and nightmares, of hope and . . . well . . . flowers.

Yes, flowers.

*

There are always flowers.

Roses, lilacs, daffodils, petunias, gladiolas . . .

They bloom easily in the sunlit gardens of Southern California, but we have also seen them against fences and curbs, singly and in bunches.

I wrote of flowers on the beach once, at the foot of a cliff where two young girls threw themselves to their deaths.

I wrote of flowers on the doorsteps of a home where an angry lover killed the woman he once adored.

I wrote of flowers at a curbside where a family was decimated by a speeding car, erased as quickly as sketches on a drawing pad.

And now, further south, Santana High, an ordinary school in an ordinary town on an ordinary day, rocketed onto Page 1 by an ordinary boy with an ordinary gun.

Mounds of flowers mark the school and dab at the corners of our conscience like a Monet painting, full of color and sadness. Subtle hues and grim news, blended.

We look, gasp in horror and turn away. And yet the images of Santee will endure, to be studied in the years and centuries to come, to define what we were back then, back now.

Those who ponder us a thousand years hence will see the flowers and they will see guns. They will see the stricken faces of the young superimposed over the familiar grin of the aging Moses of Firearms who clings tenaciously to a final moment of celebrityhood.

He raises a weapon high to the applause of his peers and he says, in a voice that resonates like a drum roll, "From my cold, dead hands."

Cheers, hoots, hollers.

*

I've been thinking about this ever since I left the place where I used to live, where I wrote for so many years, and I think about it now as I move in among the Other Columnists.

The guns and the roses.

While I may occasionally trill with whimsy, I will never abandon my roots; I bear an imprint of the city that defines my life. I will never let anyone ignore the violence that surrounds us or forget those who celebrate death's tools.

Too many flowers too often decorate the graveyards of our streets and our neighborhoods. Too often the young fall.

Outside my window as I write, the day darkens, threatening rain. Then suddenly, a patch of blue, a shaft of sunlight. This is the way my home is, my Southern California, half-light and half-darkness, often on the edge of rain.

And that's what I write about. You'll find me in Anaheim and Fullerton, in Laguna Hills and Las Flores, in Dove Canyon and Sunset Beach. Palmdale, Santa Monica, Burbank, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield . . . and always in L.A.

Eighteen years ago, when I began writing a column in this City of the Soft Shoulders, I introduced myself in the simplest way I could. And as I begin a new journey in a new neighborhood, in the only shop in town surrounded by a white picket fence, I'll do the same.

Good morning. My name is Martinez. I write.

*

Al Martinez's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. He is at al.martinez@latimes.com.

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