You’ve got to understand: I was always a New York City kind of guy. LA? Please. —It wasn’t just the Woody Allen movies, though those didn’t help: New York City is a goddamn city, with skyscrapers and subways and yellow cabs and Central Park and all the other signs that say you aren’t on the farm anymore. LA is hellish, sunsoaked, shallow sprawl. Wake me when there’s a there there.
This is why John and Lori’s ability to make the place seem downright hospitable is spooky. They’ve got a great apartment in Silver Lake, which doesn’t hurt; from the corner on Sunset you can look one way and see skyscrapers; look the other way, and you’ll see the Hollywood sign, when the weather’s clear. We walked to breakfast both mornings, and that’s sinfully decadent in LA.
It also doesn’t hurt that when we visit Lori and John in LA, we see things like Soapy Smith’s only honest roulette table and the First American Transcendental Exhibition. We go shopping for inflatable furniture in an art gallery full of Taschen books and pieces by Kaz and Baseman and some creepy Struwwelpeter pen-and-inks (pause for a lengthy confab via cell phone with Scott, and Jenn isn’t kidding when she says she can give him the Pantone color of the chair we’re looking at, to match the ones he’s bought). We eat bubbling hot soon tofu and some incredible conveyor-belt sushi.
When Patrick and Tammy roll in we squeeze everybody into the living room on an inflatable mattress and a cot and a sleeping bag and even with the two squirming cats it all works out, even if it does take Patrick and Scott a couple of hours longer to arrange the computers than we’d banked on. —We’ve already been over the corpses, which were ambiguous for different reasons before we saw them, and are ambiguous for other reasons now that I know where some of those bodies might have been found: but there’s more—there’s the glorious Babel of billboards as we tool from one neighborhood to another, Korean and Vietnamese and Spanish, there’s the startling palm trees, there’s the never-ending sprawl of it, and even, God help me, the heat, and the murderous sunlight. Forget the movies, forget the TV shows, forget the skyscrapers and subways and yellow cabs: the first city I was ever actually in, I mean living in a world-class hold-up-your-hands-just-so-and-look-real earnest city, was Tehran; the second was Caracas. And so there’s also the suite of city-signs I’ve built up from places I’ve actually been: cheap 1970’s HoJo concrete construction, and the tang of smog-heavy air lowering over a big bowl full of buildings and people, that sense of being just one among many, with messages flying over and about you meant for other people: why is that guy on the lottery billboard wearing a Viking helmet? If I could read Spanish, I’d maybe know. And it’s not like New York doesn’t have this, it does, if not quite so pervasively, but what it doesn’t have is the light, the heavy, brassy light soaking into everything, baking your bones, the light that shone on thirty-year-old cheap concrete and deliriously unreadable billboards in Iran and Venezuela.
So LA is very much a city, after all.
I mean, it’s the sort of city where you go into a bar (the door is too hot to touch outside and the inside is conditioned to an admirably arctic degree) and as you’re drinking the Mai Tais that the bartender agreed to make despite not having the the recipe, Lori asks you who does the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, because maybe it’s that guy there at the bar, the one from Mr. Show.
Add this to my ever-growing list of reasons why L.A. is, indeed, a city, but one that's increasingly complex. It's not that there's nothing here, it's that what is here isn't readily apparent. People who think they understand L.A., including it's residents (and I am one of them) really need to go beyond their usual haunts in order to discover that there's a lot -- A LOT -- more than they thought.
It's just that we're all so pressed for time, rushing to get from A to B right alongside everyone else stuck on the freeway with us, waiting to be discovered, that we don't see some of the really cool stuff right around us.
It's not "Blade Runner" all of the time.