• “Small Units,” “Hip Design” in Mid-Wilshire

    Half a mile away, a giant rock is suspended in the air. Suave creatives stroll beneath it while their children scamper, daring the fatal weight to crush them, not yet conditioned out of showing their fear and joy.

    In a fairytale citadel another 6,000 miles from here, an experimental theatre director advises an autocrat on the mind games that will concentrate global power in his hands.

    Here, at Wilshire and Crescent Heights Boulevard, a wooden platform maybe 30 feet above the ground supports a soccer team’s worth of men in orange vests, bashing out a symphony in metal on metal.

    Only some of this is art.

    Question: How much does it cost to build 18 stories into the air? To force the sky open with 255 vertical feet of metal, cement, and glass?

    Answer: A sum that will be covered by the rent from 250, perhaps 300 millennials, squeezed into 158 snug one- and two-bedroom apartments. The official phrases are “hip design,” “small units,” “discerning individuals.”

    Is this art? A young woman hunched over a laptop a year in the future and 150 feet aloft in what is now clear blue sky, working into the night on the screenplay she hopes will get her out of debt. How about the first dates that will blossom into stable, loving, maddening relationships within walls that don’t yet exist? Creating a life big enough to overflow these apartments? The ache in your feet after a day spent waiting tables or substitute teaching or delivering groceries, is that art? Or: spending your days in earnest battle, then depositing your cash across the street at Wells Fargo, waiting brazenly in regal red and yellow, whence it will flow to fund causes you despise?

    Two rows of tall metal cages bisect the lot lengthways. Their roots are secret, buried in the earth, but the rest of the building will grow from them. They’ll be covered in cement, smoothed and painted, and nobody will remember the cages in their middles.

    MISSING ALZHEIMER’S PATIENT, says a poster a block away. A $1,000 reward; she was last seen two months ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Speaking to her will be hard. She will be confused and have trouble finding words.” Imagine the terror of being lost in your own mind, trying to speak and finding no voice, no words. Of losing the lens that makes sense of the world. Stepping alone from LACMA into the city, she wouldn’t have known to put on a different lens still; wouldn’t have had one to use if she’d known. She’d have passed from the world of symbols to the world of cement without knowing she was crossing a threshold, and maybe she wasn’t.