Conception Tourism at Levitated Mass

Fortunato Salazar


the view from below

Right around the third anniversary of the installation of Levitated Mass, I heard a rumor about people having sex beneath, or within, the huge sculpture. Not just ordinary public-space sex, but sex intended to conceive a child. The way I heard it, couples were trespassing onto the site of the sculpture at night, when the site was closed, so that the conception of their child would partake of some metaphysically beneficial desert vibe imparted by the boulder excavated from the desert. That’s what I heard, and in the same conversation, that this mystic boulder sex was basically nothing unprecedented, that it was merely a variant of the so-called conception tourism that brings couples to Stonehenge to have sex at the center of a ring of bluestones and partake of whatever unearthliness they harbor. The main difference being that the bluestones have been standing for 5,000 years, while it’s only been three years since the 340-ton boulder was levitated.

As everyone knows who’s seen the documentary, the boulder had been transported with much fanfare from a quarry in Riverside County. (I heard later about a couple who followed the boulder in their van, having sex along the way whenever they were in close proximity to the boulder.) For hundreds of thousands of years the quarry had been desert; before that, for millions of years, the desert had been ocean. The boulder’s origin was holy desert that had been primeval ocean, and the boulder had been levitated; ergo, it possessed a transcendent force that would be imparted to the meeting of sperm and ovum, and that force would grow within a child named Leva or Levi or Lev and set the child apart from all children whose origin was nothing more than ordinary conception.

I confess that when I heard the rumor, my first reaction was mainly the bruising of my ego. I’d like to believe I know most of the goings-on that involve the Mass. The site is directly at the center of my workday commute. I walk past or under the boulder almost every workday. I’ve developed, I think, a fairly well-informed perspective on the Mass and the place it occupies in the culture I also occupy. I was brought up short by the possibility that I’d missed something so intriguing. Not being in the loop is a big fear in these parts.

I talked to several of the guards who patrol the site, guards who’ve become semi-acquaintances because I see them every day. Some days I’ll take my lunch over to the site and chat with one guard or another. It’s a pleasant enough locale to break for lunch, with the spacious empty grounds around the boulder functioning as a buffer from the surrounding congestion. The guards don’t have much to do and there’s a lulling, peaceful quality to their constant singing of the warning, “Off the wall,” which follows a history of children and fractured limbs—presumably children not conceived beneath the Mass. My favorite guard has a Russian accent and tends to scowl with an attitude of not being impressed. The first time we talked, he told me about the Thunder Stone, in Saint Petersburg. I’d never heard of the Thunder Stone. The Thunder Stone is another huge boulder, the pedestal of a statue of a horseman; the Thunder Stone weighs four times as much as the mass, and was transported by being dragged many miles in freezing weather entirely by underpaid workpersons, horses for some reason being kept out of the loop in the project, not to mention every kind of transportation-specialized machine.

None of the guards had actually witnessed sex or an attempt at sex in the trench, though they all shared anecdotes about various forms of eccentric behavior that happened on their watch.

The trench is the gently sloping walkway that leads down under, and up out from under, the Mass. From the time I’ve spent lingering beneath the Mass I can say assuredly that sex beneath the Mass would be both feasible and comfortable. You wouldn’t want to go horizontal—the concrete floor of the trench is strewn with pebbles which almost everyone eyes with suspicion, as if the pebbles are little ominous defectors from the underside of the Mass, but in fact they’re just rubble tracked in by visitors. The walls are smooth. Smoother even than they look, in fact. Run a finger along the wall and you instantly conjure up the possibility of leisurely upright intercourse. Moreover, the place is shaded and clean. The guards run a tight ship. There’s an inch-deep groove along the wall that should be full of wadded-up junk, but isn’t. Plus, the environs are graffiti-free, thanks to a special graffiti-thwarting coating that’s renewed yearly, so I’m told. All in all, just the opposite of a typical refuge for public sex.

Even daytime trench sex would be feasible. You could make a baby in the middle of the day and you wouldn’t even need to hurry. This is due to an interesting fact about the trench. Visitors who get as far as the trench (about a half block from the main LACMA buildings) usually steer clear of the Mass itself. The usual pattern is to descend about halfway to the Mass, stop for a photo, then reverse course up the trench and exit. There must be a million photos in the world of tourists who have hoisted the boulder above their shoulders and are grinning. Hardly anyone tarries beneath the boulder. If you ask why (as I did over the course of a week of nursing my bruised ego) the answer invariably references seismic risk. Actually, people get a blank look and then they start talking about earthquakes, which to me definitely implies mystic intervention: the safest place you could possibly be in an earthquake would be beneath the bolted-down Mass.

Maria Minerva

Maria Minerva

I timed an interval of just under six minutes beneath the Mass during which not one person came into view—the only witnesses to my exercise in privacy were the two billboards visible at both ends of the trench, one for the tar pits and the other for Supergirl.

Out of the blue, apropos of nothing, I daydreamed, in the trench, an idea for a short story in which the protagonist lives in a small border town in Texas (Del Rio?) and has a phobia toward the prodigiously large breed of some domesticated animal (capybara?) for which the town is renowned. The protagonist goes to lunch one day with his dentist who is also a close friend (it’s a small town) and the dentist notices something not quite right about the protagonist’s teeth, which becomes something quite worrisome, and then something that requires urgent and critical attention which, however, can’t be found in Del Rio or even at the nearby Laughlin AFB but only at a specialized clinic across the river, in Ciudad Acuña. The dentist brings the protagonist to the border crossing but it turns out that today is Show Off Your Capybara Day at the crossing. The largest of all the prodigiously large companion animal capybaras in Del Rio are with their human companions at the crossing, interacting in a friendly way with the inhabitants of the two sister cities. The capybaras are so large that they must be tethered by huge sturdy chains to massive spikes hammered deep into the ground. (Curiously, after this daydream, wherein the word “capybara” just popped up into my head, I looked into the legality of keeping capybaras as companion animals and discovered that it’s possible only in two states, one of which is Texas.)

It occurred to me that, if I were so inclined, I could tally all the intervals of seclusion within the trench and analyze them statistically to produce a likelihood distribution of seclusion intervals, and that if I put in enough measurement effort, this distribution would be reasonably accurate and that I could market it, covertly, to prospective parents interested in conception beneath the Mass, although obviously those prospective parents would still be taking their chances and there would be no guarantee of seclusion.

During the week of nursing my bruised ego, I chatted up a few out-of-towners about public sex and metaphysics. Lindsay and Marie just happened to be driving by when they spotted the boulder and decided to spend the afternoon at LACMA. They were visiting from the city named Boulder. They told me about a local landmark, outside of Boulder, called the Flagstaff Star, a structure at the summit of a climbing path, fitted out with colored bulbs and lit up at Christmas. According to Lindsay, intrepid hikers make their way up the path, have sex at the base of the star, remove a bulb from the structure and bring it home as a keepsake. I’d never heard of the Flagstaff Star. Lindsay claimed that she herself had taken home a bulb. We talked about the nuances of public sex in Boulder in the winter. Procuring a bulb rather than conception seemed to be the main objective of having sex at the Flagstaff Star.

on the right, the two who promised to send the video

My longest chat was with a quartet of visitors who’d just come from the tar pits. We hung out, talked about Stonehenge, they began flinging pebbles at each other’s crotches. Two of the four were a couple. He was from the UK, she lived in the Broadcast Center apartment complex up the block. They’d fallen in love here in the States. They flung pebbles at each other’s crotches, and they promised to send me a video of themselves striving for impregnation beneath the Mass (“all two minutes of it”).

Obviously it would be easy enough to conceive a child reasonably safely at the installation. You’d then have a child conceived illegally, but with a metaphysical advantage over nearly every other child, which is a combination that I suppose would appeal to lots of people. If it were me looking to make the baby, I’d probably go for a stealth approach, at night, with diversionary tactics. At the beginning of each overnight shift, the guards activate stanchions at either end of the trench. The stanchions rise up out of the ground, a barrier against, I imagine, any pair of machines interested in making a metaphysically advantaged machine baby. I’ve never actually seen the stanchions rise up. I’d probably organize a group of my friends to assemble outside the fence and watch the rising of the stanchions. I’d instruct them to get somewhat rowdy and the guards would be drawn over to my friends and my friends would handcuff the guards by posing rehearsed questions that required lengthy answers. I’d slip over the fence with a suitable partner and in a few years we would be explaining to our child that her actual parents are the holy desert and the primeval ocean.