What was first apparent was that the trailers floated on little orange steel jacks, precariously sitting up on pins. Fat grey bodies on insect feet. They looked like they could have been knocked over by bullies in the night. Whomsoever wished to disturb these foreign elements could have penetrated their thin paneling and blown them apart, or burned them down. An angry mob could have scattered them over the city or put them in shopping carts and carted them away to underpasses and bus shelters. Such was the confidence and audacity of the academy, that it could abandon all shelter and camp out in this empty heart.
A failing, ragged chainlink fence ringed the perimeter of the dirt lot. There were tumbleweeds picking up little bits of indescribable trash and continuing along until they hit the fence where they formed sculpted dunes of tangled, dangerous-looking junk. This was ground zero of the new Green Zone in the bad backyard of Rayner Banham’s city—the fifth ecology, Darwinian drifter, evolved and sampled from the other four and distributed across the late-capitalist grid. This was the future. But other parts of the city had been promised similar futures in the past. Joan Didion would remember that. The school was counting on it. The kids would come. They would come with their student loans and their trust funds, their hair, Puma’s and hope.
The rented trailers stood on their little needle feet with pvc pipes and wires falling out of their dark underbellies. They were hooked up to the grid and the sewer pipes with this artificial root system. The dust was the only thing that seemed natural. Nothing grew. The city trees had long-ago been taken away or died of thirst. Never replaced in this neglected commons of the homeless and unlucky.
The skeleton of the river was at the back and reclined and stretched away to the port, without organs or fluids, the head long gone. The filthy trains along the banks, oily and tagged with trespass paint. Thus, this little town of boxes, of buildings, sat low and broken apart on its curbs. Hives of roughed-out lofts, housing the temporary slum lives of clean youth lined the street leading to the lot.
But Dean was not yet settled on that idea. He still had the empty house and the thought of some distance, mental and physical from his future pursuits seemed desirable, necessary. No need to rush downtown. He had spent life up until then avoiding it and could keep on avoiding it a while longer. The first time he went it was by accident, getting on the wrong freeway during the riots. Plus, there was James. Maybe they could do something with the house before it got sold into speculation. Or maybe not sell it.
With James came memories. And he was just about the only person around who remembered the earlier Dean. He was a kid, now no longer a kid, from the block. He used to live a few doors down in a little post-war catalog bungalow that looked more like a cabin than an actual house. Now he didn’t live anywhere, or wasn’t sure where he should or would live. The old house was still there, just as Dean’s was still there. Both faded versions, much smaller to adult eyes. They were the only original houses left, improbably surrounded by the elaborately pretty contractor homes of the upper class. Here Dean and James were, the two last kids. The two last houses. Camping in the empty one and thinking about knocking on the door of the other one.