I had wanted to move to Los Angeles ever since Spin leaked Jenny Lewis’ rent. This was before I discovered that Silver Lake, the Wicker Park/Capitol Hill/Mission of LA where Jenny used to out-Zooey Zooey Deschanel (before the bailout of Rilo Kiley), is actually kind of bougie, staffed by the kinds of sniftered shoppes (sic) where the staff gives you the silent treatment and you’re supposed to make them think you don’t like it.
But San Francisco being my only urban experience of any note, and never really feeling accepted as a San Franciscan anyway, LA seemed like the ideal place to chill out for a few years. If it didn’t work out with Jenny Lewis in Silver Lake, there was always Karen O in Echo Park. 2006 was the last year I didn’t have to pretend to be bored.
In 2012 I got to LA, now thinking of it as the app for everything, putting it in decidedly current terms because the version of me that first became infatuated with LA no longer accepts updates. The music I associate with LA now is the ramshackle house of the Not Not Fun/100% Silk outfit, which, FYI, bases in Eagle Rock, or Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, which I played repetitively in the days before my move. Oddly enough, since I moved into the studio I now occupy with my +1, I have listened to a lot of James Murphy, who’s only associable with LA because of his testimonial about floating in a Laurel Canyon pool when Michael Jackson died. Which is as LA as it gets, past present & future perfect.
There was a heat wave when I got here, a sort of training op of a heat wave with a few misallocated resources. In my limited experience, when it is superhot in LA it starts to feel really personal really quick; it’s not supposed to be happening and as such is only happening to you.
Driving from the Eastside to the Westside, you discover where they actually keep all the LA weather and why the corresponding zipcodes are so lofty. In Santa Monica, where the ocean goes all the way to deep space and where I spent the most windless day at the beach I ever saw, undesirable weather felt like a disease long eradicated. We only just got here and of course we don’t suffer from it.
But it also rained that day, the day it was Vin Scully Bobblehead Day at Dodger Stadium and, as the Voice of America was honored onfield, a rainbow appeared behind him like a special effect. Elsewhere in Echo Park, at the corner of Glendale and Santa Ynez, I snapped an Instagram of the clouds right before they burst, before the sun took a cigarette break. And then at the Target in Alhambra, later, there was water on all the carts. The distribution of rainfall, in all these locales, seemed like a necessary dissident to a ninety-degree tyranny. I personally saw no actual rain.
The nearest Barnes & Noble to me is in Pasadena, which is twenty minutes on the 110. I had never been to Pasadena before; it is like a very large human dishwasher. In what they call Old Town Pasadena, the chain stores are as thick as the chain restaurants and you can drink from the fountains and not get sick. The Rose Bowl is here; I kept seeing signs saying Rose Bowl ⬆ but I never found where they keep it. Maybe it’s underground, on rails, and maybe every New Year’s Day it would slide into thick air via a Sumerian system of gears and winches, a city rising from the grave, before they stopped being so strict about having the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. And now it’s just in utter disrepair under the world’s largest tarpaulin.
Geographically, Los Angeles is like a really big extended family that’s almost never in the same place at the same time, and you’ve got cousins you’re friends with on Facebook and that’s it. Or it’s like a football team where members of the offensive and defensive units don’t do much inter-unit socializing and are only useful to each other because they wear the same helmet. It’s clichè to talk about LA’s diversity and utter size. But it’s incredibly diverse and really really big and you could never feel a part of it in more than one part at a time.
I went to Tacos el Pesas, in Boyle Heights, which is the brownest area my white ass has ever been in. In San Francisco, in the Mission, the joke has always been that the Latinos and the hipsters arranged an armistice long ago by which both sides would pretend the other doesn’t exist. Far on the Eastside, no such peace is visible. I don’t mean to say there was hostility, but the reality of being hideously sheltered never occurred to me so brightly as ordering an el pastor burrito while vaqueros in full detail stood to one side, appraising me with little to no reaction. It was the microscopic removal that did it, making me feel as on display as a polyp in need of removal. It’s strange and nearly alchemical to discover the extent to which you’ve really never gotten out.
Contrast the above with the Annenberg Space for Photography, in Century City, where the Who Shot Rock & Roll exhibition played to tourists with sunglasses shoved atop their heads while, in the immaculate glass-and-steel quad, what appeared to be a table of off-duty models spritzed sparkling water down their throats. Inside, the building smelled like so much money it reminded me of the old DuckTales comic in which Scrooge dreams of literally charging people to breathe—a nickel to inhale, a dime to exhale, a dollar to gasp.
The reputation of Los Angeles as whipping boy for New York and San Francisco, America’s more European cities, is branded as a blood feud in which the sides are equal in antipathy. It’s really more one-sided than that. New Yorkers and San Franciscans hurl insults drafted in sub-committee and ratified by full houses. Los Angeles signs them into law without so much as reading a line, and then heads back to the beach or golf course or whatever.
LA doesn’t want to fight or have its mellow harshed and, honestly, it doesn’t care whether you like it or not. It’s been described as “the most unnecessary of cities” but the extent to which it ignores the fuck out of the haters is both necessary and intimidating.
In its ambivalence about who people say it is, LA is Nick in The Deer Hunter. In its deep desire to be left alone, it’s the Eisenhower administration. And in your dreams of living less ordinarily, it’s best to think of it not as the City of Angels. It’s the City of Americans, multi-colored and en masse, more than anywhere else, and that includes you, New York. And I’m one of them.