You find them everywhere. Blowing down sidewalks, crumpled up in bushes, rumpled and stained in curbside gutters. Bits and pieces of daily lives, discarded or lost, there at your feet. Each one a chapter from a story, somewhere in the middle of a human book. Call them city footnotes:
Footnote # 1: Teaching Oscar
Folded, half-crumpled and stomped, the piece of paper on a street outside a Los Angeles high school bore the name "Oscar." It was a history class assignment called "Teaching Tolerance," and Oscar had written across the top, "LATE. SORRY." His signature was very much like that of a tagger (the graffiti artists who decorate buildings and overpasses).
At the top of the page were three quotes about "tolerance," including "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul. Mark Twain." Below were some questions, the first of which was "What is prejudice?" Oscar's answer: is to hate. Question 2: "How can prejudice be harmful?" Answer: Hurt, killed, false. Three: "Have you ever been hurt by prejudice?" Answer: I am really not shure [sic]. I probably have or haven't [sic]. I don't now [sic]. Four: "What are some examples of petrified opinions, or opinions people have held for a long time that are hard to change?" Answer: Because it would be mor dificult [sic] to change now.
The assignment had served a dual purpose, apparently. On the back were the words, "PASS TO RESTROOM," and the signature possibly faked of a teacher, "S. Bautista."
The name of the class, incidentally, was printed in bold face across the top of the page:
"Celebrating the American Spirit."
Not much of a party, if you ask me.
Footnote # 2: Stray Novel
Grimy, dirt-encrusted, folded up, stained, the dog-eared sheet of paper lay in some bushes not far from a Staples outlet. It was a three-hole-punched page 48, to be exact from a manuscript of some sort, probably a novel. Every third person in Los Angeles is writing a novel.
Judging by the excerpt, the story concerned characters named Biggles, Lady Rose, Third Brother, Boris and Father Puli Dog. They seemed to be gathering at a party to hear someone's new song. I figured they were rap artists. Until, that is, I noted that Boris "trotted," and that one of the characters "sniffed a hello," and a third's "nose locked on to some of the delightful smells coming from Lady Rose's kitchen."
Snoop Doggy Dog notwithstanding, I concluded that these were probably talking dogs, not rappers. (Of course, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference), and that this was a fantasy book. It actually seemed rather charming, even if the author spelled "proper" as "propper."
That can happen when you type with your paws.
I put the paper in my pocket, musing about setting up shelters for lost writers.
Footnote # 3: Schizo Monica
You don't have to swallow the feel-good "love triumphs" pablum of "Beautiful Mind" to encounter schizophrenia. This horror is all around, without the sugar-coating stumbling down sidewalks, shouting, raving, smoking, babbling. And sometimes, writing.
"Q wouldn't remove the gross compaction in my left ear below the ear drum, and because of them I was promoted by Karen Carpenter in 1976, I was tortured everywhere I went and sexually abused. Now the lie of cancer, etc. comes out and if I had cancer the Miami Heart Institute full scan would have screwed up, but the psychic."
The page, folded on a sidewalk in Santa Monica (dubbed "Home of the Homeless" by Harry Shearer), ended in this cliffhanger fashion, leaving one to wonder about "the psychic." Still, there was another page, covered in large, gawky printing:
" smaller lot in control states the economy is bolstering. It's a Constitutional Amendment, people, and Sir Gil, the Royal Jester of the Court, is going to star in comedy, sound, film and stage, to finance the petition for the Constitutional Amendment, because it will never take control until the two constants and their by-lines are inserted correct."
Sounds like some of the e-mail I get from readers.
Footnote # 4: Subversive Literature
OK, I cheated. This was in a pile of kids' schoolwork stacked next to a recycling dumpster, obviously intended for disposal. But I couldn't resist the item on top.
The class assignment probably sixth grade, I would guess was a very creative way to do a book report. In this case, it was a full-blown re-creation of the book, in the form of a small box wrapped in butcher paper, with the cover actually drawn by the student and the report glued on to the back.
Using colored pencils, the kid had gone to some trouble to reproduce (or invent?) a full color cover for P.L. Travers' (or "Travelers," as the student spelled it) "Mary Poppins." Not a computer program in sight! And there was the magic lady herself, primitive but recognizable, flying through the air with umbrella extended from one hand, carpet bag in the other, above a house (kite flying from backyard), trees and swimming pool(?) (Poppins comes to suburbia.)
Excerpts from the report:
"If you like adventures, you would love to read the original of Mary Poppins. After you start reading, you can't stop or get your hands of [sic] it. This author tried to tell the people don't care about money just help people. I like this book because this book teaches lessons and changes your whole life by forgeting [sic] about money, just help the people."
Forget about money? Just help people?
This kid has no future in politics.
For more City Footnotes, watch this space.
© 2002 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.