My girlfriend hates Los Angeles.
Admittedly, she is too nice to say it so bluntly — and she would certainly never say it to me — but we both know it.
To justify her distaste, she cites the usual culprits, the ones designed to make people sneer at the city — slow traffic, shallow people, steep prices. Sometimes I fight her on it, sometimes I’m too tired.
Los Angeles is a frothy city, and it is my favorite. It’s an easy place to be, loose and luminous, and I have gotten bored defending it. You either get LA, or you don’t. When I tell her as much, she rolls her eyes and looks at me like I’m being difficult. In all fairness, I am.
A friend in Berkeley recently told me over falafels and tahini that she thought LA was overhyped. She had stayed in a friend’s Brentwood guesthouse for two days and hadn’t traveled beyond Westwood — the squarest of LA suburbs — except to go to the Getty and a club downtown.
The catty part of me — the one that grew up in the Valley — itched to blame her unhappiness on Westwood itself, to argue that detachment swirls in pools and pool paintings. In reality, I think it was the brevity of her stay. Two days is hardly enough for the city to win her over, to grow on her like ivy rather than pruned hedges surrounding the guesthouse.
Los Angeles is a playground, and there’s a kind of innocence needed to love it; it’s indispensable to being happy there. People who move to the city are often obliged to stay by merit of occupation, and it shows in their disenchantment. Those who take themselves too seriously are bound to find LA lonely — worse, boring.
Between the two options, lonely people are far more interesting to me than the bored and their self-serving aloofness. Pleasure is easy to find in Los Angeles. Strangers are simple, and solitude strikes conversation like a match.
My best friend knows this minefield better than anyone. She’s the kind of person — bubbly and bratty — who’s built from and made for LA. The kind of person who drives a red Honda Civic, makes dispensary employees blush and pours her capricious love into pretty things, pretty people and gossip.
We grew up together in the Valley, a place that leads one to believe that there are no other places in the world. Lisa Frank stickers and disarmingly strong margaritas were baptized with adventure. LA doesn’t really have seasons, but when time began to reckon with us, we transformed from adultish children into childish adults.
Suddenly, the world split open. Age made us hyper-aware of our own beauty. Sex, a volatile spectacle, offered itself often, but casual flings were rarely my thing. Instead, I became fixated on the act of desire, ensnared in the fun of flirting. When I’m on, I’m invincible, and it’s my favorite way to be.
I’ve never thought of my hometown as erotic, but fantasy is baked into the concrete. At parties, the mythos of Hollywood subsumed me, and it wasn’t hard to play the ingénue. I would float through long nights in short skirts, making too many friends and dodging vodka-soaked attempts to stay in touch.
They don’t mean it, I had said to my best friend. We were in somebody’s bathroom — her on the toilet and me against the sink. Hedonism shimmered, and she laughed at me, the sound wet and indecent. She said something about LA being a small town, as if I would maybe meet them again.
Before that bathroom conversation, some hot stranger had recognized my perfume and had poured me fruity wine. They told me if I liked it, I could take the bottle home. Warm and dizzy, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted them to mean it, but I lived with my parents, so the double entendre went ignored. It was high school; wasn’t everybody all talk?
Pleasure is informed by place, and growing up in LA meant excitement flared in moments of chance. I was lucky to discover the tenets of Eve Babitz in college, long before I aged out of her stories. I can’t read her books while I’m home. It feels too uncanny, like tapping the glass of a snowglobe.
Her glamours, a lamination of Los Angeles fiction and fantasy, make me unreasonably emotional and strike a profound chord of understanding. She exalts fantasy as a consecration of the real, necessary and valuable.
LA doesn’t fuck, it teases. And I do the same, even when I’m away from it. But eyes that see the melting sunset accompany a racing mind that wonders if there is something chimerical and carnivalesque going on somewhere else. You either get it, or you don’t.