She stood on the corner of Wilshire and La Cienega, facing north, placidly holding a sign. For several weeks she took up this post on Friday afternoon, baring her soul to the dense traffic growling to move at the light. Each week she hoisted a new sign, and stayed until darkness made her quit. The first sign read:
DAVID PLEASE COME BACK. I WAITED AND WAITED FOR YOU. I DON’T HAVE AIDS. THERE IS NOBODY BUT YOU. THOSE WERE OLD FRIENDS. PLEASE — I WAIT FOR YOU ALONE.
She was a short woman with blonde hair, very thick legs, and a face that had been treated unkindly by her inner life. She touched up her eyes with shadow and liner, employing a blue collar artistry that brought to mind the hundreds of women who have scooped up meatloaf for me, or slipped me pats of butter and replacement spoons across the Formica counters of my life. Her fingers were burdened with costume rings. The warm layers she wore suggested a vigil approached with planning and a desire to endure. She remained immobile, save for an occasional hitch of her grip, a slight push of the sign in the direction of the cars, a gesture of the smallest emphasis offered to a wall of strangers. I watched her intently during my time in the stoplight cycle, and I developed a hunch that she was receiving messages from extraterrestrials.
Her second sign read:
DAVID DID YOU CALL? HONEST, I AM NOT SICK. I SAW YOU IN THE JEEP. PLEASE COME TO ME.
It was a week later and the plot had thickened, but still no David. Her expression was the same this second time around, like a child’s after Mom has made a vigorous attack on grime with a rough washcloth– settled and distant, showing equal parts shame, defiance, and sadness. I was well back in the field of cars but could see clearly enough, through warping windshields, a few noses in profile, a few pointed fingers, people wondering, perhaps, why she didn’t do what everybody else in L.A. does and simply leave a message. Or barring that, find out where he lives and camp out there. Here, her chances seemed so impersonal and small. Who was David anyway? An ex-husband, boyfriend, therapist, co-worker? A casual acquaintance from a bar? A figment of her imagination? Did he pass this way every day, or has he wised up and started taking Robertson? What will happen when she finds him? So many questions. I couldn’t discount the possibility that this forlorn woman was a performance artist whose medium was mass curiosity. Her next sign, three weeks into my observation, read:
DAVID I had to babysit. You could have called. Don’t you know what this is doing to me? I repeat, you are the only man in my life. I am waiting for you.
The corner was bordered by smart, multi-level commercial buildings, and they leaned their hips into the traffic that tumbled like a flashflood down from Sunset Boulevard and West Hollywood during peak hours. Other pedestrians swelled the sidewalks and made them appear epicentral to modern culture, like the pictures of foreign downtowns that appear in encyclopedia entries. But the sign lady was not one of the blended crowd. An occasional distracted glance was all her mute suffering could elicit from them. A deal was struck on a subconscious level by all parties in this cementscape; people in large cities allow an unusual level of oddity to act at the edges of their routines, as long as they can get where they’re going on time.
It was getting darker, and the air turned rebelliously cool with the sun’s claim weakened. I pulled off the street, parked, and sat on a nearby bench so that I could observe her martyrdom more closely, even though it meant jeopardizing my own schedule. It felt like the least I could do to acknowledge her troubles.
There on the corner she became less and less visible even from where I sat near the bus bench, and her incomprehensible search appeared almost obscenely pointless as she faded into the night. Who did she become when she left this corner, and where did she go? Her fingers gripped and then regripped the sign handle, feeling their way toward readiness for something, possibly the sudden destruction of the message for David upon the sidewalk. She worriedly scanned the headlights that came, stopped, and then traveled on, unceasingly indifferent to the problem no pride or discretion prevented her from revealing to the world. I felt sorry for her, though I knew I would do nothing to help restore her personal peace. And I saluted her courage, if that’s what it took to stand there barren and silent while the handwritten words on her sign gasped such desperation. I saluted her because I hoped that in the times when I have stood in such hard contrast to the normal ways of the world, there was someone at the edge of some crowd who might have done the same for me.
I conceded to her hardiness and climbed back into my car. It was turning into a cold evening, and the cars collected at the intersection were all seething, exhaust plumes curling like restless cat tails. The woman stood firm on the blind side of everyone’s attention; at this dark end of the day, the focus of all the commuters was narrowed to the throw of their headlight beams, on the route that would take them someplace warm and connected. That’s where I hoped to end up, and I caught nothing but a small glimpse of her sign as I slid by still shivering, the “I am waiting for you” sticking in my mind like the chorus of a trite pop song. Our Lady of Dubious Entreaty never reappeared in my view of that corner, but the line plays over and over, and over again.