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190 Lost in Place Longing for the Brave New World of L.A. One Labor Day some years ago, I was sitting at the dining table at my place in Eugene, Oregon, gazing out of the picture window over the front lawn at my two boys, Hudson and Alex, as they took turns splashing around in a wading pool with a small group of their friends. It was Alex’s seventh birthday party, and his mother had arranged for about a dozen other boys to come over and celebrate with him. It was hot in Oregon, and the children would queue up in the most well-­ behaved manner and then yell like rioters as they took long jumps, triple jumps, and belly flops into the tiny pool I’d filled with a garden hose earlier that morning. Alex was loudest of all, improvising a variety of whoops, giggles, and Ohh, mannnnn!’s as he took his sailing dives into the grass-­ specked water. “Watch, Dad! Watch!” he’d hell, and then take a sprint toward the inflated skirts of the pool, leaping and splashing down, showering that summery water on his brother and their playmates. This might have been happiness itself, but, from the inside house, gazing up from the book of poems I was trying to read, I had the acute feeling that much of this was wrong. Except for my two sons, the hair on all the other boys was blond, or towheaded straw blond—­ but blond. No one else seemed bothered by this or even to notice—­ not my wife, who is brunette, not my in-­ laws, who are also brown-­ haired. But it drove me into an instant panic . And I began to feel angry. I grew up among a mix of peoples both in Hawai‘i and in Los Angeles. Born in Hawai‘i, I spent my childhood among Hawaiians and Filipinos and Samoans on the North Shore of Oʻahu before my family settled in Los Angeles in the late fifties. I went 191 to primary school in midtown L.A., to fifth and sixth grades in Woodland Hills, and to junior high school and high school in Gardena. We moved first to a neighborhood of apartment houses and old bungalows that housed a mix of peoples who arrived there from Jalisco or Hattiesburg, Honolulu or Hong Kong. I heard jump-­ rope rhymes in Japanese and the English of Southern blacks, I heard hopscotch songs from Sonora and Seoul, and I played cat’s cradle with my cousins, who gave me elaborate instructions in Hawaiian pidgin English. In Woodland Hills, my family had moved on up, and that meant most of the other families in our neighborhood were white, and I felt racially isolated and socially quite lonely for a couple of years. We moved to Gardena , therefore, where there are a ton of Japanese Americans and their grocery stores, nurseries, auto-­ body and transmission-­ repair shops, and teriyaki taco stands. I was home, Jim, and, in junior high, I had a ball learning the boogaloo and the Philly dog from the black kids bused in from Compton. By high school, I dressed and talked “blackJap” while beginning to read deeply in the literature books our white teachers assigned to us. But only the Jewish kids would talk about books, so on Friday nights, rather than rumble with recidivist car-­ club boys or take a date to a Chicano dance hall, I drove over to the Fairfax district with my new friends, who introduced me to their cousins who went to Hollywood High and University High. Rather than chase the waves for good surf in Hermosa Beach, I started feeling comfortable hanging out at kosher delis, the Samuel French Bookstore, all-­ night diners and art-­ movie theaters , talking J. D. Salinger and LeRoi Jones and Luis Buñuel with kids who reminisced about Hebrew school and their bar and bat mitzvahs. When I got bored, I went to hear jazz at Spanky’s on Washington with my black friends. Or I went to the Lighthouse down in Hermosa with a white saxophone player I knew. At home, my family still did things Hawaiian-­and Japanese-­ style—­ no shoes in the house, gas-­ station calendars from Kahuku Plantation, rice with every meal, chopsticks instead of forks, and vacations in Vegas that I avoided. And, within myself, none of this seemed especially strange. Yet I was aware I was crossing borders, that 192 I couldn’t...


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