Monday, December 12, 2011

Los Angeles

When you are “from” a place that seems to define your identity, even though you are no longer “of” that place, parts of the place are as familiar to you as your knees or elbows, and you often find yourself seeing parts of the place strolling through your psyche like rubbernecking tourists.

The place is Los Angeles.  It is El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula.  You are able among other things to find true north, speak and read Spanish, use chopsticks, and brew your own espresso coffee because of it.  Los Angeles is not L.A. for you as it is for so many of its émigrés; it is Los Angeles or, if you are speaking of it or writing about it from where you are now, which is ninety-five miles north in Santa Barbara, it is “down below,” because to get there you’d head down 101 or PCH.  Los Angeles has more to do with event than it does screenplays or the enormous wealth associated with the higher plateaus of sports personalities, the legal profession, or the entertainment industries.

Los Angeles is a living demonstration of a linear accelerator, long corridors in which ideas, some quite ordinary, others remarkable for their dumbness, others still signposts of originality are speeded up with the intention of causing them to collide in anticipation of creating yet newer ideas subject to summary judgments of ordinariness, dumbness, or originality.

Were you now to return to Los Angeles for any length of time over a day or so, you would suffer disconnect rather than disorientation.  The funk and whimsicality of the generations in which you grew up had captured the outrageous humor and zeitgeist of the ever-widening gyre now resident in your impressions and the impressions of your generation.

Other funk and whimsicality await those younger than you to make of as they will.  Your Los Angeles has enormous signs on which are painted ice cream cones, thirty-foot high donuts, motels in which the rooms are in the shape of tee-pees (The Teepee Motel, of course) and slavishly modern buildings originally intended as department stores but now entirely other.  Your Los Angeles has a funicular called The Angel’s Flight traversing Bunker Hill instead of its present locale, a gaudy wooden stadium called Gilmore Stadium, an even more housing-tract-like baseball park for a vanished minor league team and, seemingly buried in south central Los Angeles, a replica of the Chicago baseball park called Wrigley Field, named, if you reduce it to its lowest common denominator, after chewing gum.  It would also have a Chinese restaurant on Sunset Boulevard named after its owner, an actor named Benson Fong.  The bistro not too far to the west on Sunset would be a Belgian Restaurant called Frascati rather than what it now is, and the cocktail lounge pianist would be Mort Jacobs.

If you spent any time at all in contemporary Los Angeles, you might have cause to wonder where you were, even if you were in sight of places you once visited and patronized because the buildings would have had some form of reconstructive or cosmetic surgery performed on them.  You would know where you were emotionally because the humors and outreach of Los Angeles dreams and attitudes would be calling out to you the way dogs at animal shelters advertise their willingness to share with you this commodity we all have in common, appetite for life.

Well after you’d moved northward to Santa Barbara, you stopped after class, at 1102 South Crescent Heights Boulevard for a visit with your parents before heading northward.  The arrangements of furniture had undergone significant shuffling and rearranging since your last visit.  Noting your disorientation, your mother said, “It’s changed, but you’ll see; this way is better.”

After a time, you found yourself in agreement.  This new way was better, a fact that had much less to do with the actual placement of furniture than the way your parents moved about the new scheme, their happiness and comfort tangible.

Los Angeles is the same way.  The neighborhoods you played in, lived in, haunted, have all been rearranged.  Although the locations have been given the effect of a coat of paint and some furniture replaced, the personality remains.  You can hear your mother saying, “This way is better.”

 

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