If one doesn’t have any children, the easiest way to mark the passage of time is by restaurant closings. For example, my favorite used to be the Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese Restaurant at 140 W. Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel. One Hawaiian patron wrote on Yelp:
This was my favorite Chinese restaurant for years and years. I loved it so much, I’d fly over from Hawaii then spend 45 minutes on those dreaded L.A. highways driving over. Before my flight back home, I’d drive over again to pick up green onion pancakes and deep fried shrimp balls (okay, stop laughing, I don’t know what else to call them) dipped in salt and pepper to eat on the plane.
There are hundreds of others: Stelvio’s, Mario’s, Asuka, and Carl Andersen’s Chatham in Westwood; Toi on Wilshire and the Broken Drum in Santa Monica; Gorky’s Cafe and Russian Brewery in downtown L.A.; Marco Polo’s and Pepy’s Chili in Culver City; the Hortobagy Hungarian Restaurant in Studio City; Nichols Restaurant* in Marina Del Rey; and the Chung King in West Los Angeles. I could name hundreds more, but what would be the point?
Today, while I ate lunch at the still robust Westwood Thai Restaurant, I was reading an article amount Walter Benjamin in the July 10 issue of The New York Review of Books. Benjamin was a German Jew who committed suicide when he was unable to cross over into Spain from France during the Second World War. The war not only killed much of what he loved, but he felt hunted by the Nazis and couldn’t take the stress of returning to Vichy France and trying on a better day. As Susan Sontag said about him, “He felt that he was living in a time when everything valuable was the last of its kind.”
In our crazy 21st Century existence, it’s easy to feel that way. I am thinking now of Robin Williams’s suicide because of … whatever it was really because of: We just don’t know for sure. At some point, Robin, like Walter Benjamin, made the decision that there were not enough valuable things in life left to make a go of it.
It seems quite a jump from a closed restaurant one has loved to a decision about life and death, but is it really? Restaurants open and close quickly. There are other things going on in our lives, however, at a much more glacial pace that could affect how we feel about ourselves and life in general. For instance, do we have a fatal illness? Has everyone we have ever loved died (cf. Mark Twain)? Have we lost the ability to see or hear? Are we facing a future of grinding poverty? Do we feel guilt for an evil that we have committed (most school shooters)?
Life wants us to live as much as we can, or dare. I learned early on from having brain surgery in 1966 that things will change, and I would have to change with them. Just because he became deaf, Beethoven did not quit composing great works. I knew early on I could never have children without a pituitary gland, so I became whatever it is I am today, with which I am all right. I feel relatively good in my aging skin.
* – This is a footnote. Don’t be alarmed. The Nichols Restaurant didn’t die: It became a zombie, now called J. Nichols Restaurant, where it serves TSF (thirty-something food) for millennials and others who want an alternative to Cheerios.