Saturday, April 28, 2012

In The Land Of Silicon Dreams

“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” (Frank Lloyd Wright)

This is a blog about a fractured city, the cracks there for all to see.  Occasionally, they split into full blown chasms.  In Los Angeles, it’s West side versus East side.  It’s traditionally black neighborhoods going brown.  It’s gentrification and uneasy truces between yuppies and gangsters.  There is virulent racism and remarkable harmony, all thrown together.  Swastikas appear far too often.  Then comes the outcry, the hand-wringing, the political wondering aloud if the denizens of L.A. will ever all get along.

People from other parts of the world think of Los Angeles as a city of freaks, illegal immigrants, and washed up television actors.  Truth is, all manner of people live here, the sensible and hardworking, the nefarious and desperate.  If heaven contains multitudes, the City of Angels reflects an earthly model of that, but there are definite darker places.  On good days, L.A. offers beautiful weather, beautiful people, and a true rainbow of color and culture.
But does Los Angeles have a soul?

“In Los Angeles, by the time you’re thirty-five,” wrote Delia Ephron, “you’re older than most of the buildings.”  So true.  The city does have a compulsion to tear down and rebuild.  In my neighborhood, I’ve seen lots built up and torn down and built up again three or four times in 40 years.

Dreams motivate people, and the silicon dream of the aging, out of work actor, and the gigantic wood-framed, tile-roofed dream of the nouveau riche all float on the horizon in the golden light.  Distinguished wrinkles stretched unnaturally tight.  Patrician paunch lipoed into oblivion.  Craftsman bulldozed for Mediterranean ugly.  Richard Neutra dashed to pieces for a strip mall.  It’s all about youthful appearance and conspicuous wealth.  In Los Angeles, we always, literally and figuratively, reinvent ourselves.

There is history:  the early pueblo years; the Zoot Suit, Watts, L.A. and May Day riots; Black Dahlia, Sirhan Sirhan, Charles Manson, Kenneth Bianchi and cousin Angelo, and Richard Ramirez; Mulholland and water; David Burbank, dentist and farmer of wheat; Griffith J. Griffith and his park; Rick Caruso and, well, everything; Aimee Semple McPherson, Gene Scott, Cecil Murray, Roger Mahoney, the Mormons in Westwood, Scientologists in Hollywood, and Buddhists in the San Fernando Valley.

Here in Los Angeles, we are the great experiment:  Filipinos in Panorama City, Armenians in Glendale, Persians in Beverly Hills, Orthodox Jews in Fairfax and Latinos everywhere.  This is a city of many voices and languages, and sometimes they shout each other down and at other times, other rare and glorious times, they sing like a heavenly choir.  This kingdom by the sea is a city of unlikely angels twisting the sheets with feverish dreams.  We live and die in the sun, and it is not all it’s cracked up to be.  It’s heat and dust and smoke from the brush fires back in the canyons whipped up by the Santa Ana winds.

Voices also come through the city’s stories.  Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Charles Bukowski, Carol Muske-Dukes.  Fiction.  Poetry.  The cool, razor blade of a Joan Didion essay—“some dreamers of the golden dream.”

But does L.A. have a soul?

Los Angeles has layers.  Blue skies, citrus groves, tract homes, mountains, ocean, and miles and miles of freeway.  The layers are often out of order, overlapping, chaotic.

An entire population of a parallel city lives on the streets and under the overpasses.  The indigent stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Oscar winners.

Hanging over the city is smog and hope.  Is the beauty real or surgically enhanced?  Infinite possibility can quickly turn into bottomless disappointment.

But does Los Angeles have a soul?

Los Angeles does.

Beneath the silicon and pancake make up, it’s there.  L.A. is not a city that inspires love; she is far too temperamental for that, but the city is a rich and vibrant place.  And on hot summer nights when the air is still and heavy, and sirens wail in the distance, the angels beckon.  They whisper; they cajole:  “Come to me, and bring only your dreams.”

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