It poured the last night I spent in Los Angeles. Rained the entire day.
The place was awash. Winds came from the ocean and from the mountains, the palm trees dropped their quilled limbs, garbage cans were knocked flat, and trash rose in dust devils above the roofline. The long over-shopped avenues were empty.
A Florida gale had come West and by some consent, everyone stayed in. A Sunday without football. The roads not worth clogging.
That whole day, weird magic trailed me.
At a Venice Starbucks, there was no line.
I held the door open for a young couple and... they thanked me. Both of them.
I went to a bar and everyone said hello and looked me in the eye.
For over an hour, I left my car at an unpaid beach meter and received no fine.
Surely the Gods were for me.
Toward sunset and not far from Sunset, I turned onto a Brentwood street and the entire block was covered with pine needles. Long fronds from those expensive cypress trees tonier neighborhoods use to mark territory. Blown down, end to end, the street was a deep scattered green.
I drove to Will Rogers Park. The gate was abandoned. The parking was free. I walked up to Inspiration Point, turned my back on the view of the city and the bay, and watched a cyclist descend the green hills 2 miles away. A gold figure floating through the desert brush followed by the bouncing white ball of his dog. Oliver Stone passed me the opposite way with his wife. The horses that always ignore me from their paddock -once they know I have no sweets, no apple, no business telling them to stay- stayed by me and snorted and chewed, and we watched the light go out of the sky.
Today, I thought, somebody up there loves me.
Which was bittersweet, as I’d come to leave.
I’d come to quit.
I'd come back to LA to mail home the last of my stuff. The bike. The Golf clubs. A few suit jackets. Work out clothes. A pile of books. The kindling I’d kept for a life here that I thought might always catch.
And now I was done. Left the acting business to take a job in the administration of the City of Pittsburgh.
I’d never been to LA not to work. Never been a civilian before. The giant town felt absent. The air wasn’t filled with hope or my potential, it wasn’t filled with the money I might make in the blink of an eye. It was just air. Sweet cool California air the day after a storm.
Strange. There was no hovering, no practiced waiting, nothing on hold. If I stood on the corner, on the concrete of a random SoCal crossroads, I wasn’t standing there waiting for my agent to call me and say They Loved You. No, I was just standing. I was just me. I was real.
I got up early the last day to mail out my last box. Crossed thru the park where my gym once was, a patch of grass with chairs stuffed between three office buildings, where I played tennis with a guy from Maine for 10 years, where I could swim in a pool built under the parking structure, under the grass itself and if you stood in a raised corner of the park you could look down thru the heavy glass and watch the swimmers go by. A park which on weekends no one visited, and you could read or write, or watch the inbound jets from Japan or Russia cut across the sharp blue sky their engines powering down. A place that bizarrely for its corporate setting gave me a peace I found nowhere else in LA.
For the first five years I came here the little park had a resident cat. A small black feral who roamed the landscaping and sometimes hid like a hunter in the trees. A cat even the security guards knew by name and whom the office crowd left food for scattered about the grounds on white plates.
I spent five years trying to pet that cat and she never came to me but once. I tried everything, but only once. I was sitting eating a protein bar or some such stupid urban fare and she brushed my arm. I turned, put my hand down and touched her shoulder. Bones like a bird. Hair heavy like a stray’s, a cat that never had her guts out, she didn’t flinch but she didn’t lean into me either and that was it. The gold eyes went back into the grass and she hunkered down. No one I spoke to in all those years ever heard her make a sound.
I came back one year after a 6 month stay in New York and her plates were gone. She wasn’t in the book of her favorite tree. I walked in a quiet panic. A security guard who knew me said “Gatto negro, she’s gone now.” I asked “Died? They didn’t move her? Didn’t come capture her for some fucking health thing did they?” He smiled, “No man, she’s just gone.”
And now I was going.
A woman I know told me not to be sentimental, not to see the process as a loss. I could hear Joe Cotton’s character in the Third Man when they tell him to leave Vienna- “Be sensible Martins and go home.”
"I haven’t got a sensible name." he says and tears up the ticket.
I wish I had such guts.
To get to my friend’s apartment building from the Post office you walk East. I looked up. After a big rain, at the far reach of the avenues of Santa Monica you can see the tops of the Los Angeles mountains 40 miles away. You can see them for a day or two.
Storm clouds gathered along the peak line of the LA basin. The morning sun turning them into molten gold. The air smelled like the Sierra Nevada. I was 10 blocks from the ocean, smack in the middle of a metropolis with 20 million cars, and inhaling with my eyes closed you coulda told me I was in Yosemite.
I love my new job. I love that Pittsburgh owns me. That I belong to a place. I know I was never going to be happy if I didn’t work for some tangible good in the world….lemme rephrase that… I know I'm never really going to be predictably happy no matter what I do so working at something I do know is important makes total sense.
But give it all that and still, just walking that distance from a park to an apt in non descript LA , in just those few blocks I could look around me and even in every haggled tree, every overpriced doorway, every narrowed glimpse of the Western sky I could still feel this dreamland’s power all around me.
It is astonishing. There’s a city at the end of the road, on the Western shore of a continent, ringed by ragged mountains, on a desert plain without water, with no harbor, a place as motley and mundane as a big box shopping aisle, built by thieves and racists and murderers, who squeezed the American Dream out of every immigrant they could sell a plot of dust to, a City whose history has been tried and convicted more times than not, and still into it pours the dreams and fantasies, the lust and madness, and the incarnate alchemy of the whole fucking human race. No matter how you well see it, no matter how you have it figured out, no matter how clearly you know the game is rigged and the house will win, still you’re gonna feel it in your bones…..anything can happen here…..
In the end I always reach for Fitzgerald, who reached for something in this town and died trying. That line about the inexhaustible nature of our dreams in the face of all evidence to their contrary. That line about his hero,"Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentImentality I was reminded of something--an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted....But they made no sound and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever."
How odd I feel this way not about a man but about a place. LA. Despite it all, I take my hat off, well fucking done Big City Under the Big Black Sun.
Everyone should see it.
If only to see themselves.