The Weather

Vandalism of Yore: Early Civilizations on the LA River, Part Three

This is the final installment in Devon’s series about unemployed dudes engaged in a neo-archaeological dig on the West Coast. Here are parts one and two.

The Goddess of Ancient Los Angeles 

The following day at work Eppersly was relieved not to be fired. And yet he was made to endure a lengthy meeting with the office manager on the theme of responsibility. Indeed the word “responsibility” was used seven times, the word “focus” four times, “team-oriented” five times, “attitude” six times, and the word “accountability” a whopping fourteen times. Eppersly worked diligently through the morning until the arrival of his boss, an attorney with a great big patch of hair on the front of his head, who likewise gave a speech containing the words “reliability,” “timeliness,” and “productivity.” Eppersly didn’t leave the office until nine o’clock, and arrived home to find Farnsworth and Landry drinking beers in the stairwell of his apartment building. Landry had stood the Luchador against the wall as though the figurine were just one of the gang.

“Sorry, guys.”

“Congrats on the old job.”

“I was kind of hoping to get fired.” Eppersly accepted a beer from Farnsworth and poured it into the area of his face. “Well, you guys ready?”

They carried the beers across the bridge and descended the urinous stairwell to the dig. It wasn’t until they reached the water that they realized they’d forgotten a flashlight. And yet the moon was nearly full, the sky all but cloudless, and the river shone in all its dull glory. They could see what they needed to see. They reclined on the riverbank, drank their warming beers, gazed up at the few stars bright enough to pierce the city-lit sky.

And here came their big break, the encounter that would shake the archaeological world: an old man dressed in rags.

“It’s him, he’s back.”

“We can’t let him get away.” Farnsworth rose cautiously to his feet. “Hello there, good evening,” he called. “Would you like a beer?”

The man accepted the bottle, drained half of it, and held it up to the moonlight. “Modelo. Good shit.” His voice was quick and raspy, like he didn’t care for wasting time.

Farnsworth took care to explain their excavations. He described the treasures they’d found, and detailed their commitment to uncovering the history of Los Angeles. It was hard to say if the old man was actually listening.

Eppersly produced the Luchador. “Sir, can you tell us anything about this figure?”

The old man squinted. “That a man or a woman? Thing’s buck naked.”

“We believe it’s a representation of an early ruler, perhaps a king. Do you know of anything like it?”

“You mean naked like that?”

“Anything at all.”

“Well, I got an old titty magazine.”

They followed him downriver. He led them to a vandalized alcove beneath the bridge where a small fire was burning in a metal crate. He fed the fire and bid they take seats on a row of overturned construction buckets. They could see he wasn’t the same old man from the night before. And this wasn’t the same alcove, nor the same graffiti on the walls. But none of that really mattered. History was upon them, and all they could do was drink beers, rub their palms together, and peer hungrily about the firelit ruins of the river.

Eppersly was totally unprepared for the magazine. When the man had said “old,” he’d imagined a monthly from 2007, perhaps a year or two before. And yet the text in question turned out to be the oldest thing Eppersly had ever seen. The date printed on the cover was 1973.

1973!

The three sat speechless as their host spread the pages and smiled familiarly at the contents. At some point Eppersly stood from his bucket and stepped out to regard the moonlit river. He wanted to remember this exact moment. Before they went any further, before their work became known and the great chaos of discovery descended upon their lives, he wanted to burn this moment into his memory. He wanted never to forget this feeling.

The thing was prehistoric. No known writing system existed from its time. And if they’d just now seen it in 2013, and it was printed in 1973, that made the text roughly twenty-five to fifty years old.

Farnsworth wiped a tear from his eye. Landry threw a brotherly arm over his shoulders.

“She’s beautiful,” Farnsworth said simply.

She was an early priestess, perhaps even a queen. A brunette with lengthy eyelashes, She was photographed in various poses on the beach, in a lounge chair by a pool, in the back seat of a convertible. These places no doubt were mere details of Her vast domain. Perhaps Her people worshipped Her as a deity in Her own right. Without a recorded history of Her rule, who could say the power She possessed?

It was only the beginning. In the days and weeks to come, the pieces would fall into place. More discoveries would be made, stories would be told, and a history would be born. The twenty-six-year-olds of Los Angeles would begin to learn about their neighborhoods, to discover the streets for themselves. The mystery of the nine-year-old bars on Sunset would start to become clear. The thought of Echo Park in the nineties wouldn’t require such grand imagination. Prior tenants would become known to the current, their voices no longer confined to the groaning of the floorboards. Archaeology would begin to make good on its noble promise for the present.

For now, though, Eppersly welcomed the frenzied confusion that came with first discovery. He welcomed the mystery of the Luchador, and that of the nameless beauty who once ruled the Los Angeles River Basin. He had a lifetime to write the details.

The three friends popped the last of the beers and toasted a night of unprecedented discovery. The old man sat snoring against a wall, the magazine stuffed under his arm. The text had been safe with him for decades; it would be safe for another night. They made their way back upriver, back up the staircase, back across the bridge to Los Feliz, where Eppersly made good on his promise to buy dinner. And so with a box of day-old breadsticks they sprawled out on the wood floor of Eppersly’s apartment and began to dream up all the little flourishes that would render their evening into legend. The long day ended as it should: with the sense that a mystery had been cracked, and that the digging had just begun.

Devon Bixler was raised in Blacksburg, Virginia and studied at NYU. He lives in Los Angeles.