While reading "City of Angles" by Al Martinez, his take on the Los Angeles that has changed so much and yet so little in his eyes in the 30 years he has lived here, I began to think about what I've actually been seeking in wanting to take some piece of Los Angeles with me when I move, something to make sense of the entire experience.
Not that it's been totally surreal and I've wandered streets and communities for days on end trying to make sense of it, but there must be some somewhat easy definition of the entire experience. Now I realize, by Martinez's words, that there is no easy definition. Hell, there may not even be a definition. Los Angeles just is. And whatever you take away from it, well, it's what you have in that moment you decided to grab it, because what you left behind may have very well changed in that second moment since you took that piece. There are themes to Los Angeles, easily identifiable, such as celebrity, murder, gangs, shady politics, everything that indeed makes Los Angeles a "city of angles." But the personal feeling about the city? It depends on what you've gone through and where you are by the time you try to make some meaning out of all of it. And I've determined that if I don't find some meaning out of all my experiences, well, maybe there was no meaning to be found. It just is.
I yield the floor to Martinez, in the third-to-last paragraph of "City of Angles." This was circa 1996, post-O.J. Simpson:
"This isn't the L.A. I came to twenty years ago, all puppy-comfortable and kitty-sweet. It isn't even the L.A. that existed when I began this book. We've become like a David Hockney painting done in hell, a series of angles and facades that conceal chaos. There is no way to describe the city anymore. Anytime I figure I know the place, it changes, like restaurants that vanish overnight, like the mini-malls that spring up where gas stations used to be, like parking structures that swallow whole neighborhoods. We are too complicated to dismiss, too violent not to notice, too powerful to overlook."
Martinez is correct on all counts. I've never gotten as far as believing I know the place, but the changes are always there. I could tell you about the L.A. skyline, about driving past those buildings, about the parking garages and the small restaurants nearby. Then I could move out finally to Las Vegas, and you could come to L.A., and what I described to you may not be valid anymore. Because it has changed in its own dramatic way.
I still intend to read that anthology "Writing Los Angeles." But I don't feel that driving need to take some piece for myself. There is no piece that belongs to me. It's like a slingshot. Try to pull any piece of Los Angeles toward yourself, and it'll snap right back into place. Yeah, I have memories, but I'm still not sure: Was I looking for something so clear-cut as to make me feel good that I understood at least one aspect of Los Angeles? Did I want something that had a few shades of gray so I could chew it over for years to come, even after I've left? I truly don't know what I wanted now, but maybe that's as it should be. That's Los Angeles.