I am burning down the 405 trying to get back from the deep valley. I feel all of Northern California at my back. It’s jumping in celebration of my departure mimicking the aftershocks of the Northridge quake that made me so afraid to move here. Stories of my cousins being convinced it was the Russians bombing us. Stories of tidal waves forming in their suburban swimming pools. Things like that. That and good weather. These were the fruits of California.
In the last few days I’ve been surprised. Some of the people in my daily circle and some of my readers have told me in one way or another that Los Angeles is getting to them. I thought about it and perhaps they chose me to talk to because it must seem like I love it. I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting it, that is for sure. Does a surgeon love a cadaver? Do they have affection for it? Probably not. So what is it that keeps them focused and fulfilled surgery after surgery?
I think it is fascination.
It is dubious to tell anyone that they should stay in Los Angeles. We’re polluted and overpopulated. In the summer there is at least one day I become convinced that it is the sheer amount of people in the city that is creating a greenhouse effect and ripping open a hole in the ozone for all the smog to sunbathe beneath. All I can do is tell you why I stay here.
For me, it is about all the sensory overload your experiences get you. Like a buzz. Living here is like that good sweat after a run. You are disgusting, but you feel good. You have earned that disgustingness and will not be judged for it. Really, you will be lauded for it. If you are not native to this place, no doubt when you leave your old friends are interested in your life in Los Angeles. Whether they are making fun of the fake breasts, fake tans and clubs with one word names or they are asking what it is like to ski and surf in the same day, it is all the same. They are reacting to it. They are having a strong reaction to it, Shangri-La, the city of Angels tucked in at the bottom of a state named after a Spanish vision of nirvana: California.
Sometimes, even Angelenos get sucked into hating this place. So much confusion and envy about this city. You sometimes feel the need to apologize for living here. Let me be the first to tell you to never, ever apologize for Los Angeles. She doesn’t need it. In fact, neither do you. Anyone can make it in a town like Chicago. I love it there. I have family from there. It’s a place that always feels great when you step off the plane. That said, how hard is it to make it in a town where people will be your friend just because you cut them off on the freeway. I am not knocking the midwest at all. I’m just saying, you don’t know who you are until you live in a city that tells you what you aren’t.
The human spirit in this city is tremendous. After a bucket of scotch, I have been known to play a little game at restaurants. No matter who our server is, I ask them how auditions are going. What is amazing is that I have never, ever been wrong to guess my waiter or waitress was an actor. They always are.
What is silly is how people make fun of that. Not to say I don’t, but it is silly that I do. These are the actors to admire. They are serving drunk people in the middle of the night, drunk people who attack them for what they love and they just smile and bring the hamburgers. In the morning, they do everything they can to shed all self-conscious appendages, summon all their inner and outer beauty and drive off to fancy backlots in their tiny, Japanese cars parked amongst a sea of German luxury vehicles. They check in like herded cattle and wait their turn. They go in front of a room of strangers who may deny them something they want more than anything based on the caloric sum of five late night meals of the course of seven months. Your ass may be too big to be Meg Ryan’s precocious co-worker at a bakery that Richard Gere wants to buy and bulldoze.
That my friends takes courage. They are like Rudy. They are the Karate Kid. The whole world is telling these people to give up their dreams, but they aren’t. I may pick on actors all the time, but they are the lifeblood of this city in so many ways. They have the guts it takes to find joy in this city. When I look at a headshot, my stomach turns just a little bit. It is looking at a person, a son or daughter of someone, staring out passed the camera lens at their dreams. It is like looking into a shark’s eyes. It is like chewing tobacco and spitting in the eye of death.
I would like to think I have taken advantages of this city, even going back to my childhood. There have been many simple delights you might find quite easily. There was of course, the comfort of driving around the suburbs in SUVs looking for an empty house in high school. The extreme hope of pretending to own a home, stocking it with the standard stocked bar (Corona, Malibu Rum, Cuervo Gold) and cutting loose until we all were floating in the pool like gnocchi.
Signing yourself out of high school to go to the beach in a car full of the kind of girls you imagined you’d meet if you only lived in warm weather. Driving at full keel through Kanan Canyon blasting 40oz to Freedom with all the windows down ready to sit on the beach at El Matador watching the runny egg yolk sun drip into the Pacific. You’d smile at dinner when you found sand between your toes and a text message on your phone saying ‘next friday, same story’. It’s that endless summer. (To any of my high school teachers reading this, I admit it. That time I wrote myself a doctor’s note stating I had a yeast infection, that wasn’t true. Or possible.)
There was becoming battle hard at USC living downtown before the crowds showed up. Driving golf balls out of ten story windows into abandoned lots where condos now stand. Walking down Flower Street and seeing no one at all. Screaming obscenities down the canyons of skyscrapers waiting to see if the zombies would come out. Kegs on balconies and giant blocks of ice in bathtubs and the things I can’t remember. Trading conversation with homeless people for a pack of cigarettes. Learning that some girls would rather be treated like dirt than like gold. Realizing if you hold a conversation with someone for over 20 minutes, they will probably like you. That time I got a phone number by dumping a rum and coke on a girl’s shoes. It is the twisted psychology of this city. You can be as good or as bad as you want to be. Someone will facilitate you or reward you either way. It’s an army of angels and demons waiting for a sturdy shoulder to perch on and a willing ear to whisper into.
Then there are my adult pleasures. The resurgence of whiskey culture in the wild west. Pretending to have terrible taste in music when drinking in Silverlake and watching the hipsters squirm. I love you skinny jeans and leather jacket bastards, but it is so fun to just take a stance like “Nickelback has done more for songwriting culture than Bright Eyes” even though I hate Nickelback. I love the reactions. In fairness, they might get the same reaction from me if they told me baseball is a waste of time, but at the same time, how seriously can you take a man in skinny jeans and an infinity scarf. But see, that’s why I love L.A. They have to deal with me and I have to deal with them. We’re thrown together because we both happen to like drinking a Ray’s Mistake at Tiki Ti. And that is more than enough common ground to shake hands at the end of the night, put our differences aside and ask him where my girlfriend could find such a cute size 27 pair of Sevens.
There’s the one word bar culture of WeHo and the Westside that I have never been able to sink my teeth into, except of course on this blog. I sometimes wonder if I put glowing tables and ice buckets, low couches and enforced a pinstriped dress shirt law at my apartment, I could have a good club. I don’t knock things until I try them, and at this point I have tried enough to knock them. Again, this doesn’t mean I don’t like the people inside. I don’t like that they are the people who embrace the Ed Hardy before they swear against it. I don’t like that they do for Entourage Season 2 what Civil War Reenactments do for Gettysburg. That said, these guys work in your office and getting mad at them for chasing tail is like making fun of a dog for licking itself. It’s in their blood and in a way it is hard to blame them. Many of them are good dudes who just aren’t ready for steak, so they are eating Hot Pockets. But so did you in the frat house and we all had a lot of fun.
I hope I am making my point. I could move somewhere else and never, ever experience these people. They would not get to experience me and hate me for being a egotistical, former homecoming prince looking for a forum where people might still find his quips relevant while working a nine to five and playing in a rock band to attempt to stay street, even if that street is more like Burton Way instead of Menlo. I know what I am and I make no apologies. I know because I live in Los Angeles, I have an open heart and this city understands me. Here, my faults and inefficiencies just make me interesting. I’d like to think I am special, but I am not. This city has just afforded me so many wild opportunties that when you write them down, you start feeling like a less accomplished Forrest Gump.
So for those of you on the fence, I urge you to not look at Los Angeles as a city. Think of it as a mirror. It’ll tell you how you feel more than what it is like. Go out there and tell someone what you are thinking and avoid being comfortable at all costs. I have always joked that Venice was Silverlake for people who aren’t interesting, but in typical Zack fashion, I have been hanging out there more and more and in the end, it’s just another part of town with a crazy cross section of cheerleaders and bad news bears and a lot of watering holes to drown in. I want to claim my own cross section of Los Angeles for my own. And I think I have. I think you all know it. That is probably why you are here (unless my Mom told you to check this out and you know her from back in the day in which case you are probably mortified that I rock so hard).
Go somewhere new and bring someone strange. Tell me how it goes. This is the place and it is all happening right here.