In the shadow of the Watts Towers, a seven year-old myopic psychic will look into your soul -- for a price.
So there’s old Simon Rodia’s towers, those steel, mortar and bric-a-brac giants throwing their big twisted shadows down on that little corner of Watts. Below, a middle-aged white couple wait at the gate, both of them in tee shirts, walking shorts and sensible shoes. The man, he’s paunchy and has a fancy Canon DSLR strapped around his sunburned neck.
Now here comes another white couple, over from the arts building, they in their early thirties: she’s tall, rawboned, a yellow dress from the fifties hanging on her broad-shouldered skinny frame, a jangle of bracelets on both arms, a Chinese tat on the back of her neck, flats on her feet and her black hair cut all raggedy. The guy, he’s lanky and listless, dressed thrift-shop hip, close-cropped hair -- he looks bored, his face all supercilious.
“Greetings, fellow adventurers,” the skinny gal says, “And how are you on this glorious day?”
Paunchy man, he utters something with an accent, sounds German, he and his frau smiling and nodding, staying polite but you can tell they both wary.
Before Skinny can say anymore, here comes the guide, a brother with short dreads and a steady gaze, he ushers the four in and starts his rap about Rodia, how he spent thirty-three years working on his masterpiece, how it escapes all forms of rational architecture, all that. The German tourists stay close to the guide, the husband shooting one picture after another , the wife shooting questions now and then, interrupting the brother’s flow but he doesn’t mind, just answers her questions and moves along. Vot did his wife have to zay? He lived alone. Did he effer finish za project? No, he left it unfinished, just moved away and never came back. Do you liff here in Vatts? No, I live in Long Beach.
The group wanders through the space, with oohs and ahhs over the riot of color and design, all the bits of broken glass, pottery, tiles, sea shells. Even Mr. Bored seems interested. Skinny gal takes pics with her iPhone. Then, when they get to the gazebo, she exclaims, “What a perfectly charming spot for a party. Couldn’t you just see it, Trevor? Excuse me, kind sir, “ she calls out to the guide, “ is there a chance of renting this magnificent place?"
Afterwards, the Germans hurry to their rental car parked on 105th and the guide heads back to the Arts building. That’s when Skinny sees them, standing in the shade on the grass area outside the towers: an immense dark-toned woman, her bulk draped in a gold and red kente dress. She’s wearing a cowry shell necklace and enormous hoop earrings. Next to her, a chubby girl of about seven, also dark and also dressed in the same way, right down to the earrings, except she’s got on these old-school Coke bottle glasses that give her bug eyes.
“Oh Trevor, look! What treasures. What absolute treasures!” Skinny approaches the two, pulling her iPhone out of her handbag, getting ready to capture something good for her Facebook wall.
But the woman, she got other ideas. “One dollar,” she says, holding out her big hand.
“One dollar for the photo. Or five for a photo and reading.”
“Reading?” Skinny asks, her thick eyebrows arching up.
“My grandbaby, Baby Shanique, she a psychic, she’ll give you a reading, tell you your future. You want a reading, sugar? Five dollars.”
Skinny rummages through her handbag then turns to her companion, “Trevor, be a love and give me a five, won’t you?”
“Ah, come on Cynthia,” Trevor grumbles. Then he sees that look of hers and relents, digs into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled Lincoln.
The transaction is made and Baby Shanique waddles over, holds the white woman’s hands and stares up at her for a full minute. Finally, she says, “ You gonna come to two roads both going the wrong way. You gonna cross the same stream three times and end up right back where you started. You gonna . . .”
Cynthia pulls her hands free from the seven year-old psychic. “ Excuse me,” she says, “but that’s all a bit vague, sweetheart. Do you think you could be more specific?” Baby Shanique looks over at Momma Momma, who holds out her hand. “Another dollar.”
Trevor digs out another dollar. Baby Shanique takes the woman’s hands again and gets this constipated look on her face. Another minute and then, “You goin’ back to Altoona, someday soon. Work in a Sheetz store off the 99. You gonna make friends with a girl name Dusty but she a meth addict. You lose your job because of her. Gonna live for a while with your sister and brother-in-law, they gonna have a child you gonna have to babysit every Saturday night. One night, a stray dog come to your door, but he stink, so you don’t let him in . . .”
Cynthia now looks ill. “I’m going to assume that there are things I can do to change this sad scenario! But what I’d really like to know . . .” she stops and looks over at Momma Momma.
The big woman smiles. “On the house, sugar.”
Cynthia continues, “What I’d really like to know is, will I ever find my soul mate, the love of my life?”
Baby Shanique looks quizzically over at Trevor, who says, “You got the wrong boy, sweetie.” She once again takes hold of the white woman’s hands, stares up into her eyes, concentrates. Nothing .
“Go ahead, Baby,” urges Momma Momma. “Look into the lady’s soul and find her mate.”
Baby Shanique stands there, confused.
“Look into her soul, Baby, into her soul!”
“But Momma Momma, this white lady . . . she ain’t got no soul!”
As Cynthia and Trevor stomp off, Momma Momma chuckles,“Baby . . . oh Baby!”
And the towers of Simon Rodia look down on it all.
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