Ever since I’ve been driving regularly to my girlfriend Ashley’s charming apartment in Redondo Beach, I have been passing a little house facing the Pacific Coast Highway with a sign in bold black letters, all caps, shouting Mojo’s Coffee and Pies. Ashley has been living in Redondo Beach for five months now. Consequently, I’ve got stacks of mental notes urging me to stop by and have some of Mojo’s mythical pie. I was also rather curious to find out who Mojo was; with a name like that, one can’t help dreaming up possibilities. And so, recently, Ashley and I were considering plans for the next day and settled on Mojo’s in the morning.
On the drive there, I can’t say I wasn’t excited – what if Mojo turned out to be a pie-baking pirate, or a dwarf! And how I longed for a delicious pie to make my morning whole. We parked and walked the block to Mojo’s exchanging goofy grins the whole way. We mounted the wooden stairs, burst inside, and froze.
In front of us was no counter, no scrumptious pie, but a lady dressed in business casual sitting behind a desk. Surrounding her, and the whole room, were boxes of stones. I stood dumbfounded for a moment, but it wasn’t sinking in.
“Where are the pies?” I blurted out.
“Oh,” she said with a practiced smile, “they went out of business…”
“But the sign!?” I countered.
“We just haven’t taken it down yet.” She said.
“Oh.” I sighed.
“Sorry,” she said.
As Ashley and I walked back to the car, I wondered about whether the two groups, the pie people and the rock people, would get along since they’d be running into each other often. An even greater mystery, however, was how the rock people would find this place, what with there being nary a “rocks sold here” sign in the vicinity. My conclusion was that they were probably advertising through word-of-mouth – landscapers have a tight-knit community, I hear. Ashley countered that she thought something fishy was going on – criminals, after all, have a tight-knit community, too.
Later I thought about the incident through a holiday-time lens and it disconcerted me; had I really been so bad this year that instead of pie, Santa left me rocks? Then I became philosophical, things change, I mused, it’s natural, just look at the neighborhood where I grew up: the old Russian stores are being replaced by trendy boutiques and restaurants with one-word names. If the Russian grandmas didn’t know before that West Hollywood’s nickname is “The Creative City,” they know now. A year or two ago, during an evening stroll through the neighborhood I was giving my friend Jaime an impromptu tour of what used to be and what is now. In the midst of our walk, I had to pause to admire the Tomcat theater. That movie-house and it’s raunchy marquees had been around since I was a wee-tot and yet I’d never seen anybody enter the place. Of course, I thought, the type of clientèle that enjoy the Tomcat likely prefer the back door.
Cities do change – even South Pasadena is in the midst of tearing down the former pharmacy building across the street from the malt shop – but is it true when cynics declare that people don’t? It’s a complex question to take on, but I know one thing: I’ve been waking up close to six in the morning for the past few weeks and I think it has changed me; whereas before my personality remained constant till two/three in the morning, now I become a totally different person around 11:30 or 12. Yet, that’s an individual case – from a conceptual standpoint, it’s inviting to draw parallels between the change in architecture and humanity as a whole though I suspect its a fallacy; the thought is grand, and yet many would merely find it offensive if it was decided that the shape of our society was expressed by the Walt Disney Concert Hall, even after being told that the acoustics are great.
It would be nice if that’s what it was all about: what’s inside. I was talking with a friend once and was informed that the reason I never get bored waiting in lines is because I have great internal architecture. I’ve pondered that many times since then – mostly when waiting in line – and haven’t reached any defensible conclusion. I’m fond of some modern architecture, but I’m not sure my insides are as smooth as Lautner or ravishing as Gehry. I like turn-of-the-century craftsmen styles of Greene & Greene, and find a certain pleasure in art deco but my lines just aren’t that long or upstanding. I suppose I do find something of myself in mid-to-late-19th-century American style of Frank Sullivan, but Sullivan didn’t put on airs, I do. We can go back and back, but I’m not baroque, not its opposite (an igloo), not a tent, not a Neanderthals cave, not even a tree that offers shade to a stranded man on a desert island (that guy better have great internal architecture, methinks). If everyone was like me then I could tell you positively that people change like cities do because what real city, while it’s still alive says, “that’s it, I’m done”? Everything is ongoing and never finished; designs change, materials change, minds change but existence continues; maybe not every individual person or building is infinite, but the fact of people and buildings, that’ll keep on, I hope.
Back in my internal city, I’ve decided to construct a building. It’s a house facing the street with a sign that has big black letters, all caps, and inside there’s one room. In that room sits a lady, she’s surrounded by stones kind of like Mojo’s only near her desk is a trap door which leads to a basement. In that basement, there’s a bell choir serenading a pirate and a dwarf who serve never-ending pies to landscapers, dessert-lovers, poets, architects, communists, the Japanese, glass-blowers, surfers, door-jamb installers, Zamboni drivers, accountants, candle-stick makers, me and you.
Note: Since I wrote this, the rock shop replaced Mojo’s sign with one that says Exotic Pebbles. Oh boy.