Every community has its icons — structures that seem to capture the heart and soul of the place, and of the era. This quaint, old fashioned water tower seems to personify South Pasadena’s Mayberry reputation even better than the quaint, old fashioned soda fountain or all the quaint, old fashioned houses. It perches on a hillside just like so many other water towers on hillsides in so many other small towns in America. It’s a symbol most people in our culture can relate to even though it is belongs to my city.
Icons are funny like that. Everyone recognizes them even though they exist in a world that the rest of us can never really inhabit. And when an icon disappears — it’s as if there is a rift in the ordinary fabric of things. Like this week, for example. In the space of a few days the world lost three icons of the 20th Century. Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson all died within hours of each other. No, I didn’t know any of them. And I wouldn’t even necessarily call myself a fan of any of them. But they were such a part of my cultural landscape — such familiar touchstones of my coming of age, my history — that without them, I feel a little disoriented. As writer Susan Orlean said on Twitter today, without them the world feels a little less familiar now.