Secret Pop

Sep 29, 2009

The Opposite of a Secret

There was an old lady crossing the street in front of me on my way in to work today. She was wearing a crazy denim get-up, with crocheted pieces added to it. I'm assuming she made them herself. And a big floppy knit hat that looked like a modern re-envisioning of Whistler's mother's kerchief. And she was pumping one arm vigorously as she strode across the street. Her slouch implied a certain hippie joie de vivre. She had a water bottle holster slung over her shoulder and a big handbag syncopating bounces on her hip as she walked. I'm assuming she was headed to Pavilions. I'm assuming she had shopping to do. I'm assuming a lot of things.

Over the weekend, my dad said to me, "You love living in Los Angeles, don't you." And I thought (and said), "Yes, actually." It's one of those things that people who live here get asked. And they have to make the decision whether or not to follow the answer up with a bunch of explanations. "I know there are a lot of shallow people, but..." "I know it's dirty in places, but..." "I know it's hard to feel like you're somebody, but..."

I do love living in Los Angeles. Both in spite of and because of all its peculiarities. The only Los Angeleno instinct I continually strive to unlearn is assuming I can figure everything out in a glance. Summing people up is something I do, usually for the blithe amusement of my friends. But I'm also prone to look at a person -- say, an old lady crossing the street -- and think I could tell you everything about him or her with breathtaking accuracy. And, of course, like all such casual experts, I seldom ask how someone looking at me might similarly sum me up. I seldom even catch myself wondering it. Living in Los Angeles trains you to walk about knowing everyone is looking at you and ignoring you at the same time. When I enter a room, people turn and look right at me in a manner far more forward than you see happening anywhere else. Except maybe for Europe. They look at you and you can see them asking, "Is that someone?" And you just as quickly see them decide, "No. It isn't."

I have never craved fame. At least not the sort that involved visual recognition. Ironically, I only crave the kind of fame advertised in the lyrics of the theme to the movie and television show and then movie again Fame. I would be content to have people remember my name. But to have them see me walk into a room and feel the need to tell someone or to feel the need to approach me for any reason, no thank you. I'm instead working on very slowly earning my reputation through excessive tipping on a server by server basis.

You can live anywhere, and there are certain immutable parts of yourself that will persist. But it's just plain impossible to be so stubborn or so stalwart that you don't eventually let some of your surroundings seep in. You become a part of the place, and it becomes a part of you. It took me a number of years to actually realize that I live in Los Angeles. At first, I spent so much of my time back and forth to San Diego that it still felt like San Diego was my home. And if someone asked me where I live, I'd often accidentally say San Diego. But eventually, you've spent enough time in a place that you know how to get from here to there and you know where to get the best whatever it is, and you take that place in and it becomes yours. And you begin to belong to it as much as it begins to belong to you. And in the case of this city, you get the added benefit of very frequently getting to see it portrayed in film and television, if that matters at all to you.

I'm not suggesting you should move here if you're not already in the neighborhood, by the way. It's hard enough finding a decent apartment. I don't need to fight over it with you. I'm sure you're very happy in whatever place you live, and I don't in any way feel the need to challenge you on it. Please enjoy the rising and setting of the sun as it appears in [Your City], [Your State], and with my compliments.

I transcribed a poem a few years back. You can read it if you like. The bit I am thinking of today is in the voice of the city, and it goes:

Bring me your muscle and spirit and brain --
Here to my glory-strewn, ruin-strewn plain!

I don't always think of Los Angeles in an anthropomorphized fashion. But when I hear her voice, I don't try to drown it out. Sure as the spring is the food of the sea.

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