Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it.

by Bernard Brandt

I’ve been trying to put off this one for some time now. I’ve got my cheap brandies and sodas (abundances of them) and the quesadilla con carnitas (I know, I’m an incurable gringo) from the local food truck. It’s a warm spring night. I’ve helped to sing a beautiful Divine Liturgy at my church. I’ve spoken with my brother about having my 63rd birthday next Sunday at my mother’s place in Manhattan Beach. I’m planning on boeuf bourgignon and Caesar salad, rice and egg noodles, possibly a German chocolate cake with the classic frosting from a German bakery in South Gate (if it is still open) and a superb cheesecake from my nephew with the Cordon Bleu certificate and a true gift for baking. That should be enough, now. Shouldn’t it?

Apparently not. I appear to live my life in a number of layers.

One of those layers is the South Bay of Los Angeles, California. This is basically El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, and Torrance. This is where I grew up, and where I wandered around through walking. I found many libraries there, back in the days when Eric Hoffer could say, honestly, that he got his education through the many books he read there.

Yeah, I can tell you that those days existed. I was there, and saw the beautiful libraries that were there, and read the many books that were there. One of the finest libraries that I found was in Hawthorne, where I read many poets and scholars. I’m told that a coeval and alumnus of the same school as I had read and learned there as well. He was once a friend of mine. His name was Dana Gioia. I’m told that he has gone on to great things, and is now a poet laureate of California.

Sorry to have to tell you, Dana, but those days are now gone. As of the 1990s, the beautiful library, filled with books, had become a concrete arsenal, filled with screens and thugs. I managed to buy a few of the books that they were selling off, apparently because they no longer needed them. Little unessential things, like Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the British Poets. 

I was also there when I walked along the sands of the sea, and the few farms that were left, with abandoned outbuildings of redwood, before the Developers came.

But that layer is nearly gone. It remains in two things for me now: St. Andrew Church, and my mother’s home.

St. Andrew’s is a small place. It is the Church at the End of the World. It is perhaps a mile away from the Pacific Ocean. It is perhaps 40′ x 40′ in its interior. I would not trade it for St. Peter’s in Rome, or Hagia Sophia in lost Constantinople. It is where I have worshipped for the last thirty years. It is where I had found, wooed, won, and wed my two spouses: Carolyn and Elizabeth. It is my spiritual home.

My mother’s home, where I grew up, will last until my mother dies. Then it will be sold. I may even get something from the proceeds. I’m not holding my breath.

But as to St. Andrew’s, I get there by two means. On Sundays,  I use my car. On Wednesdays and Fridays, when they serve matins there, I come by means of public transit (and if you ever try to drive in L.A. traffic during rush hour, you will know why). There, I see the underclass of black and latino people. Actually, they’re rather cool people; far better than all you zombies.  Do you, you hipsters and you virtue signaling folk .who tell me what I am supposed to believe and do and think, actually ride and talk and live with these people? I didn’t think so.

Actually, for the precincts of Hell, these are not bad environs. The houses all look as though they were made by each individual who built them, rather than cookie cutter little boxes. The people here are all friendly and cooperative. I’ve only been threatened with death by handgun once in my fourteen years here.

But the reason why I think this place is near to Hell is not because of me, but because of the many homeless that are here. They sleep within a block of where I live. I’ve seen them. The more fortunate have sleeping bags and some few possessions. The less fortunate have blankets. The unfortunate have nothing.

And sometimes, they have less than nothing. I can not count the number of times when I have seen shopping baskets and pillow cases of belongings left abandoned on the streets that I have walked here. I soon found that what was going on was that the ‘transients’ were being arrested, because they were without ‘visible means of support’. So they were arrested. But the police could not be bothered to take their possessions with them. These were left on the streets, for anyone to pick up after them. And so these homeless, without any means of getting off the streets, had been deprived of what few belongings, what few memories, were left to them.

I wish that I could offer you comfort. I cannot. People are drifting and dying. The alleged ‘system’ no longer works. Have a nice night.