This weekend we had a late afternoon picnic over at Emerson Reed Park with some friends. The friends had two kids, one five and one seven. We have Adam, now three. The Park is a heterogenous space. There’s a large structure that houses a theater, a typical California house circa 1940 with the Spanish look – whitewashed walls, red tile roof. There are tennis courts, two rows of them, behind large fences with green netting to give the players privacy from the steet, I guess, which go down to Wilshire and up to the right wing of the theater, almost, leaving a little space for a garden and a fountain and some rose bushes in the between area. There is, next to the left wing of the theater, an almost acre area of grass and trees. There is a basketball court, or rather, a large asphalted area that boasts three basketball courts. There is, behind the theater, a sort of garden, with a pathway that leads down to a structure with four bathrooms. Then there’s another house, also Spanish style, that faces Seventh street. And finally, there is the thing that interests us, a children’s play area, neatly divided into two, which lies next to the basketball court and is separated by a metal fence from it.
These are the features of the park as you would find them on a plat. My description is pathetically 1-D. But the major feature of the park, for the person who first wanders in 3-D into it, is the presence of lounging street people, who are everywhere on the acre of grass and trees, or sitting on the steps of the theater building. Some have shopping carts, some sleeping bags, some nothing. There’s a rule that is spelled out on a sign on the gate to the children’s area – no adult unaccompanied by children allowed. This is very much obeyed.
After one adjusts to the use of the acre, it soon becomes obvious that, like some watering hole in the jungle, the varieties of type all coexist there reasonably well. The basketball court is much used by pickup players, coaches teaching little league basketball, and weekend regulars. The children’s area, which, as I said, is divided, offers a sandy area, swings, a trampoline, a small labyrinth, and a low hanging basketball hoop on its one half, where the children are usually younger, and a more busy jungle gym and slide area, where the children are a bit older. Here there are some picnic tables. Here parents, grandparents and nannies sit. Adam is a traveler in both realms, although sometimes he abandons playing in the sand, swinging on the swing, trying to put the basketball through the low hoop, climbing on the jungle gym, rising and falling on the seesaw, or sliding down the slide, to hang, longingly, on the fence between the children’s area and the adult basketball area and ask, can I play basketball?
He can’t, we explain. He doesn’t like this.
After an hour or so, we all decided to head home. The five year old and Adam decided, though, to charge the seagulls that pick among the lounging streetpeople. So they charged the birds, which skittered off into flights just above the ground, and came perilously close – Adam and his friend - to this or that sleeping body, knowing enough by some instinct to veer off before they actually trod on a limb or ran into a recumbent mass. I thought, as I often do, how insane it is that our contemporary world enfolds a permanent Great Depression within it, which we all see and which we all exclude, not even thinking, from the “we” that is the subject to how we are – watching HBO or wondering whether to put “our” children in the pre-school that costs 24,000 dollars a year.