Saturday, May 7, 2011

You Can't Fucking Go Home Again--Not to the Same House

Back in the days when you still had a sister, you embarked on a project for her approaching birthday.  You did not get far with the project because some of it had vanished without you knowing it.  The project was to take pictures of all the places you'd lived in Los Angeles and surrounding areas as a family, including the last place, which she'd left after her marriage.

Even though you were only in Los Angeles one or two days a week at the time, you were enjoying the concept, drawing maps of the locations of the places, even going so far as to track down the locale of the most problematic of all, on Provedencia Street in Burbank, which was only the second locale you'd ever lived in and had such few memories.  You had no memories at all of the first place, a house in Santa Monica, where you'd been brought home from Santa Monica Hospital at Wilshire and Fifteenth, but the address of it was written on your birth certificate.

The place where memory truly clicked in for you was the third place, the four-plex apartment at 6145 1/2 Orange Street.  There you came into a world of experience, of time passing, of friendly and unfriendly dogs, of places where clumps of sour grass grew, of backyards where small, important adventures awaited an awkward boy with horn-rimmed glasses who had a stuffed dog named Prosperity.  Sixty-one forty-five and a half Orange Street was the capital of your universe, one scant parallel block from fabled Wilshire Boulevard, perpendicular to Fairfax Avenue.

You started with photos of the Santa Monica house, but when you went to Orange Street, the project came crashing down like missed dishes being juggled by a juggler.  Orange Street was still there, but the house and its immediate neighbors were gone, subsumed into a condominium arrangement that greatly resembles the sorts of self-assembly bookshelves sold by the likes of Staples and Office Max.  Gone, too, was the house of your sister's first residence, now a large apartment complex.

"Oh, them places,"  a resident of contemporary Provedencia Street said, "they went, one by one.  Pity, too.  Some of them was true Mediterranean, tile roofs and all."  Now they are ranch-like anomaly, another stylistic betrayal in a place where things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

Of all the places you can't go home to again, Los Angeles seems to you the most passionately unreturnable because it is so given to change and recreation.  Los Angeles is an ideal metaphor for the past you cannot return to--except in memory.  It is a place where dreams metastasize, sometimes yanking entire neighborhoods along with it.  Nevertheless, it is a young, hearty, bright city, even its more seedy neighborhoods seeming to say Look at me, I'm up next.

It is everyone's Emerald City of Oz, replete with memories of the different Wizards who held forth.  Your L.A. is the L.A. of Madman Muntz, who didn't do all that well with used cars, and so he set forth to sell TV sets; of Earl Schieb, who offered to paint your car for $19.95, for an ice cream franchise called Currie's, where you could get the Mile-High cone for a mere dime; where the Angels Flight, a peeling orange funicular, groaned its way up Bunker Hill; the Hollywood Ranch Market, and the disc jockey-turned-recording entrepreneur, Gene Norman, broadcast nightly from the large music store, Music City, Sunset at Vine.

L.A. must be experienced to be appreciated on any terms.  The L.A. of today is a foreign country to you; whether you will know it as you once did is doubtful, but the L.A. of yesterday pierces the night sky of your imagination with the kleig lights announcing premier showings of new movies.  The L.A. of your memory is a metaphor for all the antic behavior and expectation you find in your own imagination, as colorful and appealing as the boxes of petit fours deserts served at the long gone Lucca's Restaurant on Western Avenue, as irreverent as the wrangler at the pony ride on La Cienega near what has become the dread Beverly Center.  "Fuck it, kid,"  he said once to you as he took your dime.  "Save your money and ride a real horse."  But you were a kid and the horse was a Shetland pony, and you were right where you felt you ought to be.  

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