We move down the street with loud rattles and bangs, the wheels of the Radio Flyer click and catch on protruding curbs whose steps and cracks reveal the roots of decades worth of Oak and Magnolia trees trying to push through. They have succeeded all over town. I commend them with sprained ankles and walk on.
It has become our daily ritual, this walk. The children in the wagon and me pulling them down the sidewalk, down our street toward Fairfax, my old stomping ground and also our new one.
When I first moved to Los Angeles I lived five blocks away from where we do now in a house with many boys and many goldfish they forgot to feed while I was away. They would die (killed) and I would buy (more) and they would die (killed) and I would buy (more) until one day I just threw the tank in the garbage and moved on. We used to visit The Kibitz Room at Canter's every Tuesday night. For years, we did, even after we all moved into new apartments with different roommates. We'd drink ourselves silly, make out with our feet in curb gutters, pass joints, lean back with our heads in each other's disposed gum and Parliament butts, go back inside and dance to G&R and Pat Benetar and pretend it wasn't 1999. I was eighteen then and there were no such thing as scanning for fake IDs. Vodka tonics until last call, then we'd grab a slice at Damianos and walk home.
The neighborhood looks very different now. And not just because my vision has changed. "Vintage" has replaced "thrift" and the Hasidic-owned marketplaces now rent space to skate shops and salons, shoe stores with cellophane wrapped limited-edition Nikes and stores to buy bunk beds for dogs. It's a clash of every Angeleno, Fairfax is. The bleached out blondes with their pink collared pugs dodge boys who bend and sway down the sidewalk on their boards. A man in a wheelchair stops us as we make our way towards Canters and asks if we'd like to hear him play us a song on his recorder. We do. So we listen as the old man with holes in his shoes makes a face and turns away. When he finishes he pulls out his train whistle, blows it, and then he's gone. A man in a Maserati turns his hazard lights on, parked in the red behind a napping cabbie blasting Beethoven. Men in hard hats take breaks from filling pot holes to drink cold water out of small Styrofoam cups.
Across the street there's a book store called "Family" that doesn't sell children's books. There's a Silent Movie theatre that hosts some of the town's finest events and a theatre attached to Fairfax high where I used to watch poetry slams with the boy who dyed my previously natural blonde hair black. A thousand years ago we had a moment. I have no idea where he is now but it doesn't matter, my hair has long since grown out. It's brown, now. Somewhere between the way I used to be and the way I used to wish I was.
There are no children running down Fairfax on this particular day but there are Hasidic men with bags of apples over their shoulders. There are grafitti'd store fronts and a gutter full of soggy script pages and lottery tickets (some would say the same thing.) There are boys on skateboards in men's bodies. There are overpriced glitter shoes in store windows claiming vintage status and young girls at the bus stop with their Samuel French bags. There are the palm trees that dance and sway like pole dancing mullets, cats with one eye and beautiful tails.
In June, my friend Angela came out to Los Angeles for an art opening. It was my birthday the day she was here so I blew off work and we spent the afternoon together. She walked from her hotel to my house, bought me lunch and a beer float at the new diner that opened up next door to where Largo used to be before it moved. The diner all of our friends suggested we try. We watched the World Cup and talked about all the things that changed and the things that never would.
"So weird that you live here, again," she said. "It doesn't feel like ten years ago."
Later that night I walked to Angela's show, ran into people I used to know but forgot their names, said we'd never met before, finished my wine in a cup, kissed Angela goodbye and walked home. Past the darkened palm trees and the blinking cross-walk and the signs. Apartments, houses, my car parked in the driveway. Eleven years.
I've wrestled in the past with the life we chose for our family. Mainly, I think, because I was insecure about who I used to be and what the hell we were still doing here. In Los Angeles. Gambling on the same bet everyone else in this town has double-down. I'm not anymore. I love this, all of this, every last inch of this and here and how. Here is a land where everyone's invited, where everyone can, mixing and clashing and forming a line at the same bakery. Where our little red wagon is always welcome, even when it doesn't exactly belong.
There is life, here. Filthy, fascinating, glorious, all of it. Memorable and forgettable with old friends and new diners and bookstores that sell drawings of sexual positions on the walls. There is pizza by the slice and a bar to see stand-up and a man who carries a train whistle for the kids. There are girls who can't walk in their new shoes and dogs available for adoption and Simon Rex who just tripped over us on his way out of the hat store. God, I used to love him. I used to love this street. This world. I still do. Even if it spins backwards and around a different pair of stars. There is joy, here. There is joy and begging and puking and laughing and little old men hunched over with yarmulkes pinned to their very last strands of hair.
And at the end of road, there are cookies. Kosher cookies made by hand in the back of a bakery that's open at all hours. The kids choose which ones they want and the man behind the counter folds a pink box around them and we trade box for bills before pushing through the heavy glass door. And then we turn a corner and cross over into a different world, except it's the same, really. Fairfax separates past from future like all boulevards do. Like all street signs and crosswalks and sidewalk cracks torn apart by time and the roots of persistent trees.
When we reach the lawn of our front yard the kids pour out of the Flyer and onto their backs, sweaters oversized and slouching off their shoulders. It's too hard to pull the wagon through the grass. Its wheels catch.
Someday I'll tell them my stories, show them my old house with the bars on the windows and the bars where I came of age. I'll point out the skate shops and the pizza place and the diner on our walks down the Avenue. I'll play them songs that were written about this place, this street they spent their childhoods rambling down, picking cookies from behind glass, fingerprinted with stories, then wiped away with Windex.
"I was a child here, too," I'll say. "Kind of in a way I was."
For now, though, we're home. We spend a moment on our backs in the front yard discussing the leaves. They're falling, we think. As much as leaves fall off the trees around here. And then it's suddenly cold so we get up and pull our empty wagon up the driveway and through the wooden gate. "We're home now," I say aloud. And it's more than just the house I'm talking about.
One day they'll know what I mean. For now, there's a box full of butter cookies, many of them exploded, their sprinkles and crumbs everywhere. Just as they should be after a long and bumpy ride.