My new apartment sits atop a crumbling bluff three miles from the Port of Los Angeles. In the mornings I wash dishes in a metal sink below a small round window that opens up to the street, and beyond the street, hovering just above the concrete, I can see a strip of blue ocean bisecting the mountains.

The apartment is 400 square feet small, just large enough to pet the cat, kiss yr sleepy face awake, argue about the rent, drink milky tea from jelly jars in bed, under the quilt, cornflower blue against dirty grey sheets.

Its a good afternoon when I lay in the slanting sunlight and read about Chester Himes who lived and worked not far from here. A long slow essay about the year he stopped writing political novels and decided to write hardboiled crime stories instead. How else to chart the unbridled psychological pain of living in racist 1940’s LA? I underline whole passages in Himes’ The End of a Primitive, his first crime drama. I am undone by the way he yokes rage with vulnerability. How he privileges the body’s essential, awful vulnerability on every single page.

I was not sure I wanted to stay in L.A. another winter then I found this apartment on the edge of the cliff.

I like living close to the water, any tangible slice of nature, not just trees growing from holes cut in the sidewalk. At night, when I can’t sleep, I walk down the wooden steps to the beach and watch the last of the bonfires smolder. If the tide is low, I wade the pools, search for crabs and baby shrimp to cup in my hand.

Every night the ocean smells different. Even on foggy days, when the grey sky fuses with the grey pacific, and I cannot tell where one begins and the other ends, I can still smell the water. The fish. If the wind reverses, as it sometimes does, all I can smell is sulfur from the refineries along the freeway. It’s how I know I still live in the city.


Elizabeth Hall is the author of I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris (Tarpaulin Sky Press) and Two Essays (Eohippus Labs). She lives in San Pedro and plays bass in the band Pine Family. For more work check out her Tumblr. Instagram: @wilderthanher.

Art by David Delgado, “Humble Hearts Play One Second Tunes.”

Thursday, August 25 2016