"Picturesque, Isn't it?"
He peered up at me, suddenly alert. Apparently, he hadn't counted on any of the residents remaining on the property. He looked a lot like Sam Jaffe, the actor who played the Einstein-like professor in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Dressed as I was, barefoot and clad only in a thin t-shirt and shorts, he clearly saw I was no threat to him, and his alarmed expression gave way to curiosity. Still, he didn't say anything. It was my dream, after all, not his. He turned to face me, looking up expectantly, and the great arms of the old oak seemingly embraced him. I loved that old tree whose shade had cooled the environs of the otherwise austere landscaping.
Suddenly, I felt a little precarious. At my back I could feel an eerie vacancy, but didn't turn around out of fear that my apartment had already been cut away from the building to leave me suspended on ungrounded masonry. I reached out to steady myself by grasping the handrail, but my hand tore at at empty air. I looked down and saw that the demolition men had cut the banister off my back porch in preparation for the eviction. All that was left was a series of short little square pedestals not quite flush with the concrete.
Feeling quite giddy, I might have tripped and gone over the edge, but instead I lowered myself carefully and sat down on the top step. I cradled my cup of morning tea in my hands and took a sip while surveying my domain as I had done so many times before. I wondered at the intruder's purpose in being there, and was about to initiate a conversation with him to determine his reason to be on the property.
Yes, I was back at Wilshire Village once again, caught in a dream and returned to the place I spent so many years as resident.
These midnight returns to Xanadu are less frequent now. It has been thirty eight months since I was forced to abandon my squalid refuge in the heart of the Montrose. All that squalor is gone now, replaced by a trendy new HEB that has been built on the site of my former address. I had gone there a few days before my dream to purchase some sushi for my final semester critique in printmaking. I cycled through the expansive parking lot, and paused to examine the health of the grand old oak that used to be "mine." She seemed a bit weakened, a few tiny branch-tips appeared to be dead, but overall there was an abundance of leafy growth from the Spring season just ending. Was this the first sign of weakness? Trees take a long time to die, several years for this aged centenarian, and death starts at the fingertips and works its way to the heart.
I passed a red-haired grounds keeper talking to a couple of suited executives, perhaps relaying a status report. The suits moved off and I stopped and inquired, "Taking care of the trees?" He assented vaguely, and before I could stop myself, I added by way of explaining my interest, "I lived here for 25 years under the shade of this tree."
"Oh" he answered, "In the old apartments they tore down?"
"Yes, until they evicted me a couple of years ago." It was evident he had little knowledge of the world that had been erased here. He was glad to have a job, and certainly preferred the grounds now to any that might have existed on the grounds some irrelevant time ago.
"Well, take good care of her. I miss her."
He muttered something not disagreeable as he turned his attention to the plants at his feet. I wheeled my bicycle around past the suits and tied up at the lockup area in the front. Near the sinusoidal curve of pipe to accommodate two-wheeled patrons the management had tethered a set of repair tools and an air pump: they were going for a progressive urban neighborhood crowd. I locked up my bicycle and re-situated my bag from the back fender to my shoulder.
When I was still angry at having to move from Wilshire Village Apartments, I thought I would never patronize whatever replaced my old world. As the electric doors slid silently open, I felt a sense of trepidation and almost turned around and exited. Instead I charged ahead and came into the wide high-ceilinged interior. There was an abundance of customers pushing their heavily laden carts filled with produce and packaged items. As I picked up my sushi the Asian ladies greeted me with a salutation, "Thank you!" in a Japanese accent corrupted by years spent here in the States. In the cheese section a woman in a garish white hair net sliced her product, oblivious of the distractions all around her. A slim young man with blonde hair tried to cajole me into a bite of free chocolate confectionery, seemingly a little puzzled by my refusal of this tidbit.
I was the inconsequential man who knew the secret behind the curtain no one was interested in peering through. Everyone was there carrying out their business, feeling quite at home in their secure routines. This place was their favorite grocery store, perhaps, the place they shopped now instead of Fiesta across the street. Or this was their job and they felt comfort and security in the familiarity of their tasks. No person beside myself in this large space cared anything for what once was here. Everyone but me considered it a vast improvement over the derelict old buildings that were pushed aside to make way for progress.
I pushed my cart to the cashier, waited for my turn, then paid with a debit card and was on my way. I had broken my vow to never shop at the store that so changed my life. I'll be back, of that I am sure.