I Loved LA
Hearing of the LA earthquake, I was suddenly overcome with sadness about leaving LA. I barely got to live there. I guess the sudden end of my marriage in 2008 eclipsed my feelings about leaving, an exodus I never mourned. I loved the near absolute anonymity of LA, an anonymity NY has lost since becoming suburbanized. Oh, I know everyone thinks LA is suburban but I never felt that way about it. If LA is so suburban, how come you can never find a gas station?
I loved the stony winter sunlight, the stillness of the desert that lies beneath it. I loved the hollow emptiness of LA in the daytime and the howling emptiness of LA at night. I loved walking down Fairfax , a journey that never bored me. I loved coffee at The Farmers Market early in the morning with homeless people propped up on chairs, before it bustled with tourists and regular people. I loved sitting at empty bus stops with a book during my long aimless walks and going to Las Feliz’s for breakfast at Figaro , feeling like I was in the Marais in Paris in 1960 because the painter George Stoll always has his breakfast there. You can sit at a sidewalk table and watch people walk by. Yeah, I know it is only one block but that’s all you need for a bit of people watching. Anyway you are watching people enter the cafe. That’s the point. They are walking, from their car. I loved the quirky old spots of Hollywood and the ghosts that accompanied me everywhere. Ever since I was a child, I was intrigued by the history of Old Hollywood that I ferreted out of the 1950’s movie star magazines I found. I was obsessed with then. Those magazines dished the details of the lives of the stars of the day like Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Lana Turner, were fed by the shadows of the 1920’s and 1930’s Hollywood that had preceded it and it was in those pages that I first heard oblique references to the scandals of Alla Nazimova, Marion Davies and Jean Harlow . On my first visit to Hollywood I spent a long time standing in the parking lot that had once been Nazimova’s Garden Of Allah. When I was about nine I had found a book of humorous essays by Ernest Borgnine about living in Hollywood.I read these over and over and they formed my ideas about Hollywood as a place of neighborhoods. Stories about gardeners and crooked palm trees and hissing lawns, the everyday, non-mythic Hollywood, separate from movie star Hollywood.
I loved LA’s thousands of 99 cent stores that always set me dreaming. I loved careening in my car up the Pacific Highway and always risked crashing in order to look out over my shoulder at Marion Davies beach house. I loved eating guacamole on the empty beach at Topanga and circling the old motel there never failed to set me dreaming how I would move in there and write all night. I used to run 7 miles from Marina Del Ray to Venice Beach in 1988 when I spent 6 weeks in LA. LA is perfect for the slow long distance . There is nothing to distract one from their inner contemplation as they run wide eyed against the empty sky that hangs above the low built houses. I loved how driving felt like flying when I crossed over the Hollywood Hills. I loved poking around looking at different peoples gardens on quiet afternoons and the exhilaration the downtown LA fabric markets brought out in me, all the chaos that had been stomped out of NY.
I loved thrifting around LA with Thom Murray, my old intern, in his Volvo station wagon , smoking weed and going to Swingers for breakfast in the morning or breakfast at late night.
Both of us were New Englanders who would never be blasé about palm trees, the extraordinary quality of light in LA or being able to turn right on red.
The Southern Italian who is me, was buoyed by the sight of the red, pink and purple Bougainvillea that was strewn indiscriminately about the city, the dignified Cedars that lay outside my bedroom window, the huge clumps of Rosemary that broke thru fences and the sea…I haven’t spoken yet of the sea. I loved how no one ever believed my real name was Susana Ventura but no one ever questioned that my name was Penny Arcade. I loved how I was living in a Ventura County, my father’s name and often wondered what government office I needed to visit to get my land back.
I loved going to the $2 movie theatre on Beverly on still afternoons with boxed salad and being hypnotized by the photographs outside the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax.
I loved going in and out of Russian deli’s on Fairfax and the deep comfort being around Old Jews has always given me, a shelter that is hard to find in NY now. I loved the lone Century Plants that reached high toward the sky. Stark, fringed, black and white prayer flags like the ones I remembered on Formentera, that assuaged my natural feelings of isolation.
I loved eating at Canter’s at 3AM feeling like Ratners in NY in 1969, now long gone. I loved taking the bus, sometimes just for the heroic time it took, to get from West Hollywood to Venice Beach and the menagerie of poor folks who rode those buses, a Steinbeckian reality of Mexican maids,the homeless, the elderly and people with mental health issues. I would sit in a window seat, absent mindedly reading a book, observing the passing scenerary out the window and the human drama on the bus. Silent and austere,so different from the cacophony of San Francisco’s buses.
The New York underground theatre people who moved from NY’s East Village in the 70’s,and lived in old bungalows in Hollywood, never learned to drive. They swore by the buses and it was they who taught me to appreciate the possibilities inherent in LA’s public transportation, a kind of bizarre time tunnel, a Bardo like experience,completely out of time.
Yeah,I liked it. I’m strange like that but LA is perfect for strangers.
I loved the dark canyons of Downtown LA at night that were more 1930’s NY than NY. I loved the endless rows of strip malls and the comfort they brought me, knowing they could never and would never be gentrified by “creative” and “pseudo-hip” designers.
Too ugly, too homely,too chintzy. After all, How do you destroy a strip mall? I loved the little ethnic food gems these malls embraced.
I loved the spas of Korea Town, even with their influx of empty-headed, cheesy- glam hipster girls cuz there was always a bevy of taut Korean grandmothers to offset them, attending to their ritualized scraping, bathing and shaving.
I loved going to hear Mickey Champion sing at Babes and Ricky’s on Central Avenue. Singing without a mic, I followed Mickey out the door, walking from the bar to the corner grocery, still singing, to buy a bag of chips, chomping and singing all the way back to the stage.
I loved flying in and out of Burbank, like Montego Bay in 1982.
I loved the long afternoons at home where the telephone rarely rang. LA is the only place you become more popular by not calling your friends. I loved the hummingbirds on my porch and the blistering hot August days that were so slow you could feel the earth rotating. I loved that every time you met a friend it felt like a tiny miracle, that’s in how much bold relief they stood out against that vacuum. I loved that you could still know who the enemy was when you saw them, the greed was obvious, their disinterest in you obvious and somehow innocent. The art types were either really artists and intellectuals or just buffoons. Few people pretended they loved culture,philosophy or ideas.
That imposture is now reserved for NY.
I was one of those New Yorkers who had bought into the “I don’t go to California” ethos of East Village New York 60’s”.
The first time I flew to LA, as I descended from the plane, the soft winds of LA embraced me and I whispered to myself “I love LA.” Yeah, that actually happened.That was 1988 and I only knew 3 people in LA if you didn’t count the immigrant East Village theatre peeps. I piled my rented red mustang convertible with them and drove them out to Malibu.They had been living there 10 years and had never driven up the Pacific Highway.Typical East Village style I guess. They only knew Hollywood. Larry John McNally, the singer songwriter I had known in Maine lived in someones pool house. He had me meet him in far flung places around LA and he was my first tour guide into the breadth of LA.
One night he drove me high up into the hills where he had written Just Like Paradise looking down on the lights of LA.
I don’t know. I guess I will live out there again some day.
I hope so. I was someone else there.