Thursday, February 18, 2010
Los Angeles, by Joseph F. Mailander
It is possible to disappear, for months, even years at a time, even for a whole lifetime, into the city of Los Angeles, in a way that it is impossible to disappear into other cosmopolitan places.
In other great cities, you may become superficially anonymous: in other great cities, nobody may know you, and you may even be enough of a hermit to have your groceries delivered. But in these other cities you still walk your neighborhood, say hello to the same clerks, and occasionally escape into the kind of reassuringly madcap evenings that satisfy your predilections over time. However, in Los Angeles, where the clerks turn over every month, the madcap evenings are never dependable but disappear as marketing trends as soon as they are discovered, and where there is also a far sharper demarcation between commercial and residential property than exists in other great cities, you transcend anonymity, and truly disappear.
You are not merely comfortable with your anonymity in Los Angeles; you cultivate and brandish it as one cultivates and brandishes a talent. You wear clothes that announce your casualness, your incidental quietude. Perhaps this is why Los Angeles has such an intriguing relationship to fame and star-making—at bottom, fame is the polar opposite of the true Angeleno experience—perhaps fame only exists in Los Angeles to detract the city from its real business, which is enabling its citizens to disappear—and certainly the famous in Los Angeles are those citizens who most love to disappear of all. But it is not a wonder that in Los Angeles one finds the most Koreans outside of Korea, the most Egyptians outside of Egypt, etc. It is the place the world comes to disappear from the world.
In LA, you may disappear daily into the hills, into the flats, into the parks, into beach bars and the bookstores, along the surface streets, biding time until your next true disappearance. And your next true disappearance is the sacred disappearance that even goes beyond your vulgar quotidian disappearance. As an Angeleno, you strike up complicated, devoted relationships with farflung escapes: one may love Portugal, another Paris, another the Sierras, another the Sahel. These places are where the Angeleno feels most alive: it is always elsewhere. In this way, the native Angeleno is always the stranger in a strange land, one hundred percent of a lifetime.
An astonishing number of homes in Los Angeles are situated on healthy-sized lots, of a dimension more usual to rural communities. The demarcation between residential and commercial is much sharper here than elsewhere. The dimension and scope of the places people live permit even more disappearance, literal disappearance: an enveloping by trees that grow to stupendous heights, gates that keep one in as well as others out, and ivy and bougainvillea that enshroud a life.
The relentless sense of disappearance, of invisibility: because of this quality, for me, Los Angeles remains the most congenial place anywhere to perform the elaborate version of doing nothing, under the scrutiny of nobody, that is so necessary to creation, and especially to a writer’s life.
Joseph Mailander is a writer. raised in the South Bay in Los Angeles. He graduated from Hawthorne High and UCLA.
You can find on his blog: http://minor-arcana.blogspot.com/