Manifest Destination

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

Manifest Destiny. I found myself drawn to the term when I was a teenager. It's powerful, spiritual. Epic. I could almost hear the Last of the Mohicans film score playing whenever my high school history book fell open to that page...Each time my parents moved us east, farther and farther away from the west, plunking me into new school system after new school system, each with new social caste systems, I daydreamed hard about pushing back west, to the land of my birth, where my childhood friends, Aunts and Grandmother lived. To California, the golden state. People joke and say it will one day crack off the continent and fall into the ocean, but to know California is to love it inspite of its fatalism.

I eventually got past the way the words, "Manifest Destiny" sounded and into the actual history. It is an obsolete belief, a relic of the past, embarrassing old history that's better swept under the rug, except, the rug bleeds. It was a heady concept and a bold action for a young buck of a nation with a deep desire to prove itself, its vastness, its potential. The quest was greatness and guns helped grab the western wilderness. They pushed and shot and killed until the land ended and the pacific ocean rose up to meet it. 

photo credit: Joshua Franzos


About a month ago, Josh and I were on the road, traveling in California for nine glorious days.This was my third "research" trip up the coast of California and Josh's second. I've been chasing the ghosts and relics of California's motor travel culture, re-creating old road trips my parents took before I was born, hoping for closure inspiration from the settings we encountered for my novel. I rested my palms on the tops of bars and counters, hoping to feel something, to feel connected to my dead parents in some way, hoping, to feel them as adults, rather than wardens of my memory. I hoped to feel something when I wrenched open the curtains at the motels and hotels or when I laid my head down at night. I have a robust imagination, but I think it is safe to say that I am not psychically attune. 

On our 2013 research trip, we got a drink with a local, Santa Barbara author who'd written a book about a haunted restaurant, an old restaurant that was on my list. He was a Santa Barbara native, older and had worked in the restaurant industry there while growing up. I pumped him for information about several other local restaurants and hotels, that were also on my list and long since closed. Over the course of our meeting, we learned that he had gifts of the psychic sort. Like a M. Night Shyamalan story, dead people follow people around and if they happen to spot him, these ghosts try and get him to deliver unfinished business type messages to the living people they're tailing. His eyes were kind and lucid. I believed him, but I knew Josh would not. Josh asked if he could see any ghosts following us. I discreetly kicked Josh under the table that day, but I honestly couldn't tell you whether I was more disappointed or relieved when the author told us that there weren't.


photo credit: Joshua Franzos


 Back to California 2016. We hiked up to the Golden Gate recreational area. Josh filmed the beautiful fog rolling over the bridge. The sun was peaking out from behind the clouds, lighting up San Francisco like it was God's chosen city. Sometimes Josh's art takes awhile. He waits for that decisive moment and that is why his pictures are cinematic and his cinema looks careful like a portrait. The wind was beyond chilling my bones and on to chilling my bone marrow so I walked around the area to get my blood moving again. I walked about and when solicited, I took pictures of young couples with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. I walked further up the the hill and looked into a huge concrete hole in the ground. It was a big hole called Battery Spencer- formerly a concrete coastal gun battery with three M1888 12" guns mounted on long range Barbette M1892 carriages. Before it was dismantled and scrapped in 1942, it was part of San Francisco's harbor defense. Here's a picture of one of the guns.

photo contributed by: John Stanton

In the words of AC/DC, "Big gun kick the hell out of you." Long since dismantled and abandoned, Battery Spencer, or its remains, are amazingly still open to the public. The concrete walls are covered in graffiti now. Iron bars hang over windows that have long since been smashed out, anything metal is rusted beyond hope. Stairs lead here and there, and to nowhere really. It made me think of the house we toured the previous day in San Jose, the Sarah Winchester house. Sarah Winchester of the Winchester Rifle fortune. There were lots of stairs to nowhere there too.

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

Sarah's life was one that was marked with tragedy, her entire family was dead by 1881. She held nightly seances, trying to contact her loved ones beyond the grave. Her grief combined with her vast amount of wealth, combined with the crock advice of a spiritualist medium fueled her building mania that didn't stop until the day she died in 1922. She ended up with an unfinished 160 room Victorian mansion, with many staircases leading to nowhere, and doors that opened to brick walls. A confusing Queen Anne labyrinth. It was said that she never slept in the same room, two nights in a row. She was on the run from the angry spirits of the Native Americans killed by the Winchester rifles. She had all her rugs removed, they kept bleeding.

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

photo credit: Joshua Franzos
 

Josh and I met up with my mother's sister. My aunt. I wanted to show Josh a Japanese garden my grandmother (my aunt's mother), once took me to in Saratoga. I forgot that there wasn't a lot to see in a garden in the winter. It was still beautiful though. While we admired the koi, I started planning where we were going next. I said that I wanted to drive by my grandmother's home to show Josh. My aunt asked me if I wanted to go inside.
 
"Yes," I said immediately, without hesitating, without thinking. 

My grandmother's mid-century California ranch home could've been a Mad Men set. I thought of the engineered quartz counters we purchased for our home this past summer. We'd decided on them because they reminded me of my Grandmother's kitchen floor. Her house is so indelibly imprinted on us, even my younger sister pointed it out in a comment on my instagram account,"HAHA your new counters look just like g-ma's floor!!!"
I wanted so desperately to see it, be in her home, just one last time.


"I finally cleaned it out and I'm renting it out, you know...I'll text the tenant first," my aunt said, her thumbs flying over her phone, "I'm sure she'll let us, she's really sweet. She's the best renter."
That's when my heart threw itself against the front of my rib cage. Tenant? 
I stopped in the middle of the wooden foot bridge and looked down at my boots. Suddenly the crux of all my research trips slammed into a perfect, crystal clear emotion that had just lodged itself in my throat.

No. 

It would not be the same and never would be again. All of my grandmother's wonderfully dated furnishings would be gone. The tenant would have a crappy ikea couch, dirty dishes in the sink, and they would probably be scampering just ahead of us, picking up the dirty laundry off the floor. It wouldn't smell like my grandmother's home either, which, back when she occupied it, smelled like fabric softener, genmaicha, ripe lemons, and faintly of camphor wood chests

NO. 

All of the evidence that she ever lived there. 

Gone.  

Two tears slipped down my cheeks and I angrily pushed them away.
What was I expecting? A living museum
There are few places, least of all my Grandmother's home, that are safe from the ravages of time and California real estate. Even the Montecito bar, Cafe Del Sol, (open since 1969) where I met the psychic author just three years ago is out of business. The California earth felt like it was crumbling into the ocean right beneath my feet.

photo credit: Joshua Franzos
There were some big guns in my life. My Grandmother was one of them. She was a Japanese immigrant from the island of Saipan. Her family hid in volcanic caves along Mount Tapochau for weeks when the Americans invaded Saipan. The Japanese army would not allow surrender. As a young woman, my Grandmother was quite literally caught between a rock and hard place. Eventually, the American army used machine guns and flamethrowers to clear the civilians out of the caves. The Japanese army hid in the hills and sniped at the Japanese civilians when they surrendered. Calling them traitors. I think she said one of her family members was killed by friendly fire. Used to be friends fire. Her war-torn stories, the appreciation for food and gardening and the blessing of life in America...Everything that speaks to human resiliency, my Grandmother imparted upon me already.

No. I didn't need to see the insides of another dismantled gun battery, her home, to feel the negative space in my heart, in my life. 
 


I turn 36 next week. Manifest Destiny doesn't hold the same power over me as when I was young. In fact, it doesn't hold any power over me. Destiny is the kind of word naive people throw around in their first marriage. Destiny is the kind of word defense lawyers beg their clients not to use in the courtroom. Destiny is still being used as an excuse for terrorism and murder. Words like "destiny" belong in fantasy fiction novels, not in real life.
 
I don't have answers and I don't expect any, but foolishly, I still long for them. I keep pushing west, young man. I plug along, trying to drum answers up with all the clues that were left to me, mostly just addresses of restaurants and hotels that no longer exist. I've visited the strip malls and parking lots, or whatever does or doesn't exist in the place of what used to be. I try and imagine what my main character might feel or take away from it all. My main character is not me and yet she is, or was. Is. Was...Definitely was. The book is most definitely fiction. 98% fiction, I'd wager, and yet it is still so very personal, like an alternate reality. She wears her father's navy pea coat. So I did too. I stand in these settings trying to discern what my main character might feel when I am in a far better place than she is. She has a long journey ahead of her. I personally, just me now, felt awe for the beauty of the sea or landscapes, and good when I shared it all with Josh. Even sharing small talk and a drink with a local barfly felt nice. I like to think on some plane of existence, I shared something with the ghosts that only follow me in my mind. I mean her mind. My main character's mind. But that's the thing about road trips, you're always on the move. It's hard for those ghosts to catch up when you keep pushing west, but eventually, the land will run out and give way to the ocean. That's when they'll find you.


photo credit: Joshua Franzos

 
   
What I Wore: Navy Peacoat : Ralph's Army Surplus    watch hat : Ralph's Army Surplus   Sweater: Athleta  Jeans: H&M  Boots: Freebird Coal by Steven  Sunnies: Ray-Ban  Bag: Vintage





Your Bosom Friend in Pittsburgh,



5 comments :

  1. Meryl, what a trip. I didn't want this post to end just yet, I was enjoying the little peek inside your novel. And because this is a fashion blog, I can't go without mentioning how much I love those boots! Niki x

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    1. Thank you Niki! It gives me hope that one day you'll want to read the actual book:)

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  2. One of my favorite blog entries. Fashion. Personality. Storytelling.

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    1. & of course fantastic photography!!!!

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    2. You are sweet. Thank you and I love you!

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