Monday, November 14, 2011

Lost Angels

My feelings about this weirdly inflated village in which I had come to make my home (haunted by memories of a boyhood spent in the beautiful mountain parks, the timberbline country, of northwestern Colorado), suddenly changed after I had lived in Los Angeles for seven long years of exile. I have never been able to discover any apparent reason for this swift and startling conversion, but I do associate it with a particular occasion. 

The dog riding the bus made me know I was back in Lalaland. Amid the perpetual state of perfect weather, the gaggle of languages overheard, the multitudes of crazies gesticulating in crosswalks and the babbling homeless wafting chronic smoke into fair Pershing Square, I considered the strangest of cities I have encountered, one that I once called home. This pacific paradise that I find less than pacific.  Semper Loco.

I had spent an extremely active evening in Hollywood and had been deposited toward morning, by some kind soul, in a room at the Biltmore Hotel. Emerging the next day from the hotel to the painfully bright sunlight, I started the rocky pilgrimage through Pershing Square to my office in a state of miserable decrepitude.

Filled with memories, foods that I love and friends that I cherish, this city will always have a place in my heart. I relished the multitude of diversity found on the quiet commuter bus speeding down Wilshire. I heartily enjoyed bowls of Persian osh with Diddy Reece cookies sandwiches for dessert, or Ethiopian injera as the sweet smell of burning cardamom filled the Fairfax ave strip, or the soyrizo scramble at Swinger’s dinner, or the frou-frou macaroons at Bottega Louis.

 In front of the hotel newsboys were shouting the headlines of the hour: an awful trunk-murder had just been committed; the district attorney had been indicted for bribery; Aimee Semple McPhereson had once again stood the town on its ears by some spectacular caper; a University of Southern California football star had been caught robbing a bank; a love mart had been discovered in the Los Feliz Hills; a motion picture producer had just wired the Egyptian government for a fancy offer for permission to illuminate the pyramids to advertise a forthcoming production; and, in the intervals between these revelations, there was news about another prophet, fresh from the desert, who had predicted the doom of the city, a prediction for which I was morbidly grateful. 

And I welcomed the time spent with friends dear to me from one of the most meaningful periods of my life. The LA that I know is unique and not shared even by those who have spent far more time here.  Part of LA is always with me, even if it isn’t for me.

In the center of the park, a little self-conscious of my evening clothes, I stopped to watch a typical Pershing Square divertissement: an aged and frowsy blonde, skirts held above her knees, cheered by a crowd of grimacing and leering old goats, was singing a gospel hymn as she danced gaily around the fountain. Then it suddenly occurred to me that, in all the world, there neither was nor would ever be another place like this City of the Angels. Here the American people were erupting, like lava from a volcano; here, indeed, was the place for me, a ringside seat at the circus.
-Cary McWilliams in Southern California Country, 1946 

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