Los Angeles – The chill fills in just before the sun sets in downtown’s majestic MacArthur Park.The bustling gestation of street trade slowly dies off, but not all the shops are shuttered and the streets are crowded with foot traffic and cars.
In the park, peddlers in coats and caps will work energetically into the night. The hot dog stand vendors chat with the real “street meat:” transexual Caribbean Charlie boys. Only a few couples still wander the popular park in evening promenades, and a few Mexican families can be heard laughing in the distance. “What do you call a one-legged cholo?” the father asks. His two girls giggle “No se!” and he replies, “not eeeeeven!”
In this idyllic park where plastic bags are swept up by city winds like coupled leaves of autumn I found Joanna, a lanky blonde woman whose long, braided hair rested majestically on her tattered gray sweatshirt top. She knelt in the patchy grass next to an infant sprawled naked on a concrete bench. A brave street dweller slept angrily nearby on the sidewalk, surrounded by a hodgepodge of anxious coin-holders waiting for the bus.
“What the hell you want??” Joanna’s inquisitive eyes darted to mine in a penetrating stare. I explained that I had seen her begin to change the child’s diaper and rushed over to observe the gritty underbelly of stately MacArthur Park.
“Well yeah I’s uh just changing this here baby diaper,” she explained. She wasn’t going to open up easily. I pried for more.
“And how does that make you feel, Joanna, changing a baby diaper in a public place. Do you think that it’s social injustice?”
“Social injustice? Social injustice is exploitation of the poor, working class, average Joes and Janes for the benefit of mass entertainment. That shit’s fucked up, you know?”
“Preach sister!” I decried. Now that I’d won her trust I felt confident persisting in my inquiry.
“But you Joanna, how do you feel? You live in the most powerful nation on Earth, you work your fingers to the bone to provide for yourself and your family. You’ve come to this city with your hopes and your dreams and you’ve put it all on the line and when you’re drunk it’s a beautiful thing but right now here you are on the streets, in the cold, with the bums and the thieves, and on this bubblegum bench in the park you’re reduced to wiping the shit off your poor, wretched baby?”
“My baby? Naw this ain’t my baby. You trippin’. I just seen this baby in the park like loud!” She wiped away the smell in the air with her hand. “Like damn, this baby diaper need changing.”
What a twist! The coup de grâce! The story within the story reveals itself in a grand prestige. I applauded the brave, common woman:
“Not your baby! Why what a good Samaritan you are! Here in the park good deeds happen every day! And how shall you remedy the loss of the child of its family? Kind, gentle-souled Joanna, what will you do next?”
“Ain’t my baby!” she yelled back at me from the bus window. As the doors squeaked close and bus growled away two small baby eyes stared up at the orange-pink L.A. sky.