Occasionally I leave my East L.A. barrio splendor behind while I spend a calm weekend afternoon down in the Seal Beach area, an Orange County haven which borders the southern Los Angeles county line. Seal Beach is an upper middle class bedroom community sprawling against the south-facing coastline of the area immediately south of Long Beach. The streets are wide and clean. Lawns and yards are well-manicured and it seems everyone is weirdly courteous. All seems clean and orderly. Ethnically, the city is primarily white with a small smattering of Asians in addition to various other weird indecipherable races, but none that I could ever construe as Hispanic, so I stand out as a roaming novelty when I’m down there.
This afternoon I was strolling around a nice outdoor shopping area lined with independent shops catering to the beach community selling that typically overpriced but very tasteful and restrained decor. A lot of it is in the “beach” motif, aqua-colored items, seashells, “cottagie” stuff in subdued hues that scream restraint. Everything screams restraint down there. This area is dotted with small grassy areas and the walkways are immaculate. There is a some very faint gentle music piped in over invisible speakers and today pedestrians wore conservative shorts and tops. It most assuredly is not Huntington Beach or Santa Monica which are both loud, bothersome places which play host to raucous swarms of ghetto types looking to enjoy a beach life they will never be able to afford. No, Seal Beach is not that kind of beach sensory overload. It’s mannerly and quaint. I finished up a small frozen yogurt I bought from Golden Spoon and got up to look for a trash barrel. I walked in circles with the empty cup and could not find a trash can. I started to panic (well sorta) because there was not a trace of litter anywhere around and I couldn’t fathom leaving the empty cup sitting on the bench or concrete planter. Finally my friend pointed to a trash can hidden behind a grassy knoll to my left. Relieved, I threw the trash out with a sense of civilized accomplishment and I thought about how so many people in my hood have absolutely no such sense of propriety. Trash litters everything in East L.A. Even though there are trash cans intermittently placed, you’ll still find the ineveitable lazy discard flopping around on the sidewalk or street or strewn across a brushy area. A friend once asked me, “Why don’t Mexican people take care of their neighborhoods?”
Now this is a short-sighted and bigoted question, really. Many middle-class Mexicans are quite neat and their neighborhoods rival the cleanest in Seal Beach. In fact, my parents live on one such street that is generally tidy as hell. However, there is a house a few streets over which is home to a bunch of young adults who live with an old man who apparently owns the house. Being elderly and generally powerless, he leaves the upkeep to the kids. The place is an utter shithole. These are 20-something, American-born people and the house stands out in its utter dilapidated isolation.
This littering problem is a class issue but for some reason it seems pronounced amongst most of the people who live in my area (who are mostly Mexican immigrants and lower class Mexican-Americans). What is the mentality that leads to such disregard for the cleanliness and orderliness of one’s environment? There is a severe lack of pride and conscientiousness on the part of many East L.A. residents and inhabitants. We have bad feng shui in this town. Personally, I think feng shui as it is mystically idolized by SWPL’s, is bullshit in the respect that it does not create harmony, but rather, that it is the offspring of a harmonious mind. It is thus self-reinforcing. Simple, uncluttered and smartly arranged environmental cues follow a cultural personality that displays the same qualities. And once maintained, the orderly feng shui cements its hold and becomes a mark of honor and accomplishment.
Driving back home I decided to note the discordant environmental elements that we have created in East L.A. that sabotage the orderliness of our neighborhoods and our lives. There is simply too much going on. The streets are littered with lazy shit people can’t make time to deposit in the trash and hoodlums vandalize any vestige of civilized presence while solicitors clog streets and sidewalks with home-delivered foods. East LA. is easily home to more ice cream trucks than any other neighborhood I’ve been in.
Here are a few photos I took this evening which typify the disrupted feng shui of this town.
I realize this appears trivial in the sense it’s presented. Litter is common and this looks very common. But this is standard fare in East L.A. Imagine this image multiplied a hundred-fold. And note the trash receptacle on the sidewalk at the top of the photo, near the right edge. There is a trash can within walking distance but someone saw fit to drop a discarded cup on the street. This is blatant laziness and petulance. Litter is emblematic of a slovenly cultural mindset. You are rebuking reason and common sense. When a trash can is close by, you are consciously wreaking havoc on your own world. Self-destructive tendencies focused externally.
This admonition is ubiquitous in the small narrow streets of East L.A. It’s hard to honestly criticize the men and women who go around selling paletas! (popsicles) or helote! (corn on the cobb) but this shit just brings neighborhoods one step closer to anarchical disarray and marginalizes any chance of assimilation. This shit is a throwback to a different era in which the closest convenience or grocery market is so far that “food on wheels” is a sensible alternative. You’re at home for chrissakes. Drive or walk to the store, it won’t take more than 5 minutes of your time. Streetside vendors and their annoying bells are a blight, man.
This is the great menace of inner city life. This degrades any sense of cohesion or feng shui. Gang graffiti points to diseased mentalities on so many levels of ghetto life, ultimately culminating in the destruction (that’s what it is) of much-needed serenity. Whereas the feng shui of an orderly and civilized people reinforces its own rewards, the disruptive nature of graffiti likewise serves only to perpetuate apathy and lack of conscientiousness.