Friday, June 15, 2012

In Love With Another City Not My Own

“No, I don’t,” I replied.

*          *          *

I have a confession to make.  I am an adulterer.  I have betrayed what I am supposed to love:  Los Angeles.  It is time to be open and honest, and stop living the lie.  I love New York.

This begs the question:  how can I write about L.A. when my heart belongs in the east?  And what of my entire life spent in the city of angels?  Was it a marriage of convenience, or somewhere, deep in my chest, did I split my heart between two coasts?

In my defense, I must say that Los Angeles is not a city easy to love.  It is false, fictional, and never what it appears to be.  The world sees the glamorous, the heavy makeup and ruby red lipstick.  It is only in the morning light that the cracks are evident.  The light reveals a city older and more jaded than the Hollywood hype.  I cannot get close to this city; it is enigmatic and distant, best left to the image on a silver screen.  There is emptiness and haunting loneliness to which L.A. gives a unique spin.  Sure, you can be lonely elsewhere, but it is different here.  In Los Angeles, loneliness becomes a suicidal, lost, drug-induced hallucination.

New York City is a character.  It has character.  Los Angeles is a backdrop, a malevolent shadow in the surreal tent show of life.  Writers don’t make L.A. a character of equal billing in novels and screenplays.  Bret Easton Ellis tried.  But really, could Salinger have set his story in Los Angeles?  Holden Caulfield could not have walked the sprawl of city streets among the landmarks without falling down from exhaustion.  L.A. is an attitude more than a place.

The subtitle of this blog is “Searching For The Soul of Los Angeles.”  Maybe because of the film industry and the history, that soul is subtle and often hidden.  It is not in-your-face like New York.  However, after living here my whole life, I know the soul is there.  So it is not necessary to love L.A. to write about it.  One of the most intriguing things about the city to me is the layered texture of the place.  When peeling back those layers, all kinds of surprises come out.  London, Paris, New York—what you see is what you get.  We instinctively know those places, even if we have never been.  We find them in the pages of books and on the screen, and when we finally do visit, it is more to validate what we have seen portrayed elsewhere.  Los Angeles will surprise you.

That is what I enjoy about living here:  the surprises.  The city cannot be taken for granted.  There is always a juxtaposition, a contrast, a dramatic fault line.  People elsewhere think of the city as a paradise:  great weather, beaches, mountains.  But the layers bring the dark corners, the insinuations, the hints of something psychologically more complex and interesting.  Our conflicts are epic—just look at the recent battle for ownership of the Dodgers.

So I’ll always love New York for what it is, but I am connected to Los Angeles not just because I was born here, but because I am addicted to watching what it will become.  Things are always changing, and that leaves everyone slightly off balance.  There is this collision of money, politics and dreams that makes the city interesting to explore, but almost impossible to fully capture.  That is what makes the challenge of writing about L.A. so inviting.

As for my sin of city adultery, I know I will be forgiven.  L.A. knows the human animal has secrets, dark and malevolent.  The city is noir to the core.  With the pain of a civic hangover, we greet the morning light with squinted eyes, wondering how we got to where we are.  It is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Los Angeles never sleeps in the same bed twice.  She is a restless lover, trying to capture the dream that almost always proves illusive and fragmentary.  She keeps her distance and her secrets carefully hidden.

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