Friday, December 2, 2011

I've Figured It Out

I've not been entirely satisfied with my reasons why King of California will be my souvenir from Santa Clarita when we finally move to Henderson. I liked what I wrote in the entry explaining why it will be one of three souvenirs of Southern California (, but it didn't get to the core of what I was thinking, and I only discovered yesterday what I was thinking when I looked at that loft building across from MacArthur Park.

The reasons detailed in that entry still stand. But the main reason I'm taking King of California with me as a souvenir is because it got completely right what this valley is about. The shallowness and aversion to history is threaded throughout these very different lands, despite being of the same valley, and yet King of California doesn't concern itself with that. The movie is not about the valley; it is about using this valley as a means to something, in this case Charlie (Michael Douglas) seeking buried treasure which leads him and his daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) to the Costco that it's buried under. (The Costco in the movie is the one that's here in this valley, and I've been to it at least twice. It may seem obvious, but King of California was filmed partly in Santa Clarita and in other locations, though it's meant to be Santa Clarita alone.)

If you were to look at this valley on its own, what it has, what the people are like, you'll find nothing you can grasp. But if you have something you're striving for within this valley, then it has something, but that's because it's come from you, not this valley. I can't wait to finally leave because there's nothing of this valley. There's nothing truly organic within it.

In Las Vegas, I can go to the MGM Grand, to the Luxor, to Caesars Palace, and know that it has been here before, that these are parts of what makes Las Vegas what it is. This is history, shiny and smooth as it is. As much as the corporate overlords of these casinos would want to deny the history that Vegas has, they can't. It is here in other forms. It is in the Neon Boneyard, part of the Neon Museum, which has various neon signage from decades long gone. It is in the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas that is vociferously supported by former mayor and mob lawyer Oscar Goodman, whose wife is the current mayor of Las Vegas. It opens on Valentine's Day next year. It is in authors and others who work to make sure the history remains alive.

Las Vegas is not the means to anything, and neither are the surrounding areas such as Henderson and Summerlin. It has become bigger than any resident there, which is a great benefit because you can be whoever you want there; you can reinvent yourself either temporarily if you're just visiting, or permanently if you're a resident. The city itself is never greatly affected by such action. It's all up to you.

Here in Santa Clarita, it always feels like you're on your own, that there is no city with you. It's not so much that support is required, just a system of some sort to make you feel like you're somewhere, that you can be part of a place. I get that feeling all the time in Las Vegas, and I know why writer/director Mike Cahill set King of California in Santa Clarita. The valley feels so insignificant that it steps quietly into the background once Charlie sets out on his quest. Had King of California become King of Las Vegas, Charlie would have been swallowed up by everything Las Vegas offers. The Eiffel Tower replica at Paris, the tower at the Stratosphere would have loomed much larger than he ever would be.

It's why Lucky You works even when the script doesn't. Eric Bana's character doesn't expect to be bigger than winning the World Series of Poker. That's all he wants. He maneuvers within Las Vegas to try to get what he wants, interacts with people that orbit within his universe, and knows Las Vegas intimately. That's how I want to know Vegas too, and that's why I never warmed to Santa Clarita in eight years: There was nothing to know here, nothing to connect to. You can have all the goals you want wherever you live, but if you don't have that connection, what good are they? Charlie does in King of California, but because of what Santa Clarita was long before it became crowded by housing developments, when the house he grew up in was surrounded by orange groves and was the only one there. When he gets back to it from the mental hospital, he looks around, bewildered. That connection isn't there anymore, but it doesn't matter! There's treasure to find! He's lucky that he could ignore his incongruity to the area. I can't.

Nor can I easily shrug off these eight years, as much as I want to. I arrived here when I was 19. I'm 27. That's a pretty big chunk of life. King of California as a souvenir at least makes that loss of time feel more gentle than it is. Some good times, but not enough. Once I get to Henderson, I'll begin making up for it fast.

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