Southern California, where the American dream came too true. (Laurence Ferlinghetti)
It was warm all day in the fourteen-karat gilded light, so warm it eventually immobilized you, and laid you out on the couch feeling your vitality draining, but there seemed to be plenty of time still, the light showed no sign of dimming anytime soon.
Then, through the south-facing window, you see the skyline has put out a dirty ombre rag, and you can see new lights laced over the old gilded horizon, dully twinkling like costume jewelry. You realize with dread that the day is over, nearly over anyway, and you didn’t know it was going anywhere…you thought, without realizing it, that it would go on forever like that because it showed no sign of stopping.
And suddenly it’s dark.
All day I wanted to write, but this city says nothing to me. It just wants to be looked at.
Pensée #206 keeps running over and over in my head.
When they took us to Disneyland as children, I felt a chill inside as we neared the gates of the park, and all the billboards and signs began appearing in rapid succession. It was a mix of fascination and revulsion overlaid with dread.
You’ve heard so much about it, and when you finally see it you expect to find it glorious. So it’s such a strange thing to be here and think “This is the golden land?”
The stars are things to walk on, past head shops, wax museums, and buskers in superhero disguise, and the cartoonish but no less ominous Chinese theatre that modern times discarded for the younger, blonder and more benign Kodak Theatre.
If you haven’t noticed, I feel sad, and scared, and dark, and trapped.
This may be the quintessential Los Angeles experience.
Last night, Vincent and I drove out to Montebello (for no real reason) and walked up to the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument.
From the gentle rise where we stood, the city lights against the San Gabriel mountains looked like a low-hanging constellation. I said to Vincent,
“This place is weird.”
I often wonder how people live here. I guess they just keep trying until they make it.
And I imagine that “making it” means a place like Laurel Canyon, with its winding narrow roads, its veils of live oak, its patchwork houses listing unsymmetrically on the cliffs, grown over with hairy vines, overtall or overwide, old and eccentric. Making it means, for some, living in a houses that is allowed to acquire all the gnarled character of age that the denizens, for their own survival here, cannot.
“It’s so big!” Vincent said helplessly. “I drove for an hour today, and I was still in LA.”
Maybe that’s really why people stay here, even when it’s let them down and there is nothing left to stay for–because it takes so long to get out of. Maybe they stop believing there’s a place where it ends.
And these warm, gilded days make you think you have more time than you actually have, because they don’t age until they’re on the brink of death.
Night gets so quiet on the outside of LA. People have come home and are watching TV in their houses alone. But you see lights against the horizon, now black and blue, and you wonder what’s going on down there.
You wonder where everyone is. You wonder if you should be somewhere, if it’s fun and exciting and worthwhile. You wonder if everyone is there but you.
I think that I could be content to sit and write, with music playing and a glass of water, and the phone nearby. But the feeling that I ought to be somewhere else, somewhere where everyone else is, and that I can’t go there…that is what tortures, what ruins a night that could be quiet, and pleasant.
That’s the atmosphere I find hanging over LA–the smog of better offers, if only you could find them. You breathe in enough and it asphyxiates.