Yesterday, after months, (maybe even years) of careful thought
, I decided to leave Los Angeles
. It's a thought that fills me no small amount of trepidation
; this place has been home
to me for fifteen years. I didn't realize that until recently, I'd always thought I was "from" elsewhere
. But I've spent more of my years here than anyplace else, and like it or not, it's helped shape
me. I've never felt like I fit in
here, but it's my hometown
and I have a strange affection for the city despite its flaws.
It's changed since 1985, when my mother and I came here from Texas. I remember well that trip; the plane flight was several hours. We slept through most of it. Only I was awake when Los Angeles first came into view.
We were on an early morning flight, so the plane approached by day. Flying into Los Angeles by day is never very pretty. A dull, brown nimbus covers the city and beneath the haze you can see its flatness sprawl from the ocean to the mountains. In 1985, even the buildings downtown were short and squat. Los Angeles looked to me like an accident. Like some giant had spilled it over the land and was too lazy to clean up. If these observations had occurred to me in anything else but memory, I had no one to share them with; by the time my mother was awake, the plane was flying low enough so that I could see the cars on the freeways below. Fascinated by real cars that seemed as small as toys, I had forgotten my earlier apprehension about the stretch of the city.
An accidental city; I think that best described this place in 1985. It was incoherent and noisy and somehow bland; as if the strain from trying be everything to everyone has made the city somehow featureless. I was enrolled in school, and for the first time ever, I didn't quite fit in. It was the first time I was ever really aware of being unusual. School in Los Angeles was different from any of the other places I'd attended (I was an air force brat, I'd been to plenty of places), somehow more savage. There was a strict pecking order and I was made aware that I was at the bottom of it. So what did I do? I simply refused to play in the tribal games and stood aloof and observed. The decision to withdraw was probably one of the most significant steps in the construction of who I am. I am well aware that had I grown up in some other city that I would not likely be the same person I am now. This city changed me.
When I worked downtown and had a window out, I'd stare out and look at the city, and I became aware of some of the things that made it pulse:
(Journal Entry, March 12 2000)
During the day I gaze out of the third floor window of the office tower and watch people hurrying down below. I wonder about their stories and their sadnesses. Today was very bright, and my people-watching habit was hindered by the glare of sunshine off of cars in an adjacent parking lot. From the third floor they resemble beetles with shiny carapaces, somehow repulsive and loathsome despite their brightness. Through the haze, in the distance, I can see Baldwin Hills. The willow trees and the green lawn below combine with the hills and the tops of the palm trees to give an illusion of a city going to wilderness. The cars (beetles as I have told you) give somewhat garish lie to this, but if I try hard enough I can ignore them. I can also ignore the way the gardeners have mowed the lawn with neat perpendicular lines. Somewhere, beneath the lazy facade of beaches and bimbos the savagery of this city beats through its denizens, pulsing like a heart. Los Angeles is really a jungle city, a primitive city that disguises itself with glamour and rouge. Despite its pretty lies, it is a primitive city, and it is best not forget that.
And before I allow nostalgia to render Los Angeles into a hazy sunshine dream, it is best to remind myself that it is a savage city. It is the city of the riots and the fires. A terrible, burning, churning city obsessed with its own transformation. And because Los Angeles is always changing, you cannot live here and remain unchanged. I thank this city for its gifts and bid it a fond farewell.