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  • 201 South Kingsley in Los Angeles was my childhood home. The neighborhood was called "Uptown" then, although now it would be regarded more as a part of the old center of Los Angeles. It felt like a neighborhood, mostly single family homes, a few apartment buildings, a local elementary school just a block away, a small neighborhood grocer, a small seedy residential hotel at the end of our block, and not much else. The house was strange, in some ways--massive roof beams, curving at their ends to give something of the feel of a Chinese temple pagoda, with large stone pillars supporting a wrap-around porch and small stone pillars lining the front walkway. There were no large windows, and I remember the house being dark inside, except for the kitchen.
    What's important to me about this place is its power to evoke the memory of a time long gone, irretrievable except in that strange place called memory--a place that has no tangible form, of which almost no physical traces remain--the house long demolished, the school and hotel and grocery store as well gobbled up in the constant churning of ever-renewing newness that LA became soon after I left it in the early 1960's. But in the early 50's, the LA of my childhood felt cosy and safe, sprawling, yes, but with real neighborhoods, each with a character of their own. I remember how my sister and I would spend many weekend days, and many more summer days, picking a street in our neighborhood and riding away on our bicycles, following that street as far as we dared to go, many blocks, miles and miles--never turning back out of fear or from a sense of real danger, but just because of exhaustion or from discomfort at the strangeness and our distance from the familiar.
    That's what I want to convey about this place in memory, the calmness and familiarity of a kind of small town idyll which seems so incongruous when juxtaposed to the present-day reality of LA. We had an ice-box on the service porch: two items from old-time small town life which require some explanation. Before there were electric refrigerators, food storage in the city depended on insulated cabinets cooled with blocks of ice, and therefore on deliveries by the ice man. The ice-box was messy, with drip pans that had to be emptied and spilled easily. So it wasn't in the kitchen itself but in an anteroom off the kitchen, with a large screened door--it wasn't a real porch, like in the front of the house, which had a low wall up to the edge of the stairs but was open to the air for most of its length. The "service porch" was a proper room, holding the ice-box and a vegetable cooler, but mainly serving as the hallway to the servant's quarters, a room with its own small bathroom.
    We also had regular deliveries from the milk man, and a bread truck and a vegetable truck which made frequent stops on their routes through the neighborhood. It's ironic to think that only the ice cream truck survives, of all those itinerant delivery people who used to serve neighborhoods, back when there were neighborhoods. The substance of that old life is gone, only the least nutritious part of it remains, the sugary treats and the maddening jingles which announce them. The calls of the ragman and the tinker are silent, the tweet of the bread truck would be too subtle to hear in today's traffic. That sense of peace, and of the relative quiet of an out-of-the way corner of a city that felt still close to the orange groves which surrounded it, seems so nostalgic in this telling, and my description feels romanticized, yet there was a real peace to the place which abides in my memory – that peace of my neighborhood was important to me in my childhood, since so much of my inner life and my family's reality was fraught with the danger and menace of McCarthyism, with isolation and alienation because of our difference: Jewish, atheist, Communist, intellectual...but those are other stories...
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