Los Angeles taught me that I know nothing about the kind of person I want to be. Everything about the city felt like a fun house mirror, the kind that makes you taller and thinner: the palm trees stretching and bending like truffula trees along the boulevard and the San Gabriel Mountains rising from seemingly nowhere to couch the city into the coast. I found the traffic of Los Angeles, the hum, to be comforting. It sounds insane when I say that, to cherish the very thing that everyone else hates. But, yes, the hum of the entire city moving along together at one snail breaking pace makes me feel that for better or worse we are all still connected. Los Angeles is simultaneously isolating and suffocating. It wraps you up in your isolation and puts us so close that you can actually feel the warmth, share the warmth, of another’s isolation on a street corner, at a coffee shop, ordering drinks at the bar.
The first thing I learned about myself when I moved to Los Angeles was that my body and brain and heart had been set at a very young age to count on the seasons to signal a passage of time. Seasons in Los Angeles are like a tequila sunrise, the kind of change that bleeds into itself, one you can hardly see, and only because you know it should be there but most of the time you don’t look for it anymore. That first eager greenhorn year I remember walking along Wilshire, window-shopping because I wasn’t making enough money to pay the rent, and most certainly could not afford to shop. And summer had faded into winter, possibly skipping fall altogether. A very wiry young woman was changing the window display at Anthropologie and hanging hand-cut snowflakes from fishing wire. It must be winter, I thought.
I also learned that men, men in Los Angeles, men in California are the answer to women’s questions everywhere. They are better looking, taller, stronger, and finer than any men anywhere else, and I can say that with confidence. The even better part is they come in different styles or additions I could say. There are tech men who are thin and lanky with well-framed faces and glasses that work in coffee shops on Abbott Kinney, and there are actor men who drink in bars on Melrose and sleep with women in range from eighteen to forty. There are businessmen, and though I see them I never know where to find them, they do business in that secret business part of LA, which no one really knows about. And there are art men; mostly there are art men. Men that make things: t-shirt companies and refurbished furniture, painters, writers, antique collectors, producers, sunglass crafters, and souffle makers, and they are all always also musicians and bartenders. They are men that make and do everything and do it well. And they wear boots though they don’t need to because it is California and sometimes it looks silly, and jeans, so much denim we could cover the country with it. And in the winter they grow beards and in the mornings they surf, and their unkempt hair is kept kempt by the saltwater they never rinse out. And tattoos hug their arms and their chests and they are reminiscent of some character from Moby Dick or Charles Dickens and when they kiss you they keep one strong arm around your waist in case you ever thought of going anywhere, though you didn’t.
I learned quickly that Los Angeles has secrets that no one could know until they got there. They are secrets the city whispers to you as you stumble back into your apartment at night, or wake up so early it is still yesterday, or when you remember and find your way to the ocean, there is an ocean. Los Angeles is like an old girlfriend; the one you never loved when you were with her, but as soon as she left you and every single day since, you have been madly taken by her. Her memory is stronger than any single one you could keep in your pocket, and the images come inching their way back to you in your sleep. Everything feels more glowing in the past and at a safe distance, glittering, sunny, slight breeze, three bottles of red wine.