Nearly a year ago, Thought Catalog shared a piece entitled “How To Live In Los Angeles.” The piece traces how to “live in Los Angeles,” from birth to adulthood, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner…or is it? We tapped two writers who are from Los Angeles to share their thoughts on the piece, to counter how they think the way to live in Los Angeles is.
I don’t know how to live in Los Angeles. I really don’t.
I’ve lived here for about three quarters of my life. I left here twice, enjoying a chunk of my twenties outside of the city. Coming back is always different and I don’t know what type of city it is each time I come back. I can’t say I know how to live in Los Angeles because I don’t understand what “live” means anyways. I mean if you are reading this you are living, but if you are alive are you living or are you “living”… Whatever.
I guess my problem with “living in Los Angeles” is that it can mean so many different things. Each answer is more or less acceptable. You could be playing softball thirty miles of east of the city and feel that’s the most LA thing to do. You could play guitar in Hollywood or play classical in downtown. Become a doctor by the beach. Live on the beach underneath the pier. Entertain on the pier. Or just become an entertainer here. Or a pretty face, boy or girl. You can join a lot of faces in a gang. Maybe fight gangs for a living. Get really into cars cause a lot of people have them. Or never buy a car. Blah blah blah: the absurdities of all possibilities makes any definition living in the city even less of a possibility. It’s annoying to talk about because everyone is doing something here. It just may not look like it at first.
But I really don’t know which number to use to show the city’s size because they are all wrong. I do know it has a lot of people in it. If you include the whole county, the number tips the scales to bloated. Registered residents are one number. The homeless, transient, and unseen are another. These people could be of all races and variations, from Ohio to Osaka to Oaxaca to Oxford. I think the best way to assess the size of the sprawl that is Los Angeles – extending eastward towards desert, north into the mountains and valleys, and the panning south into the painfully flat basin – is consider its economic might. If California is the ninth largest economy in the world and this county is at least one quarter of the state’s population, well… That’s bigger than some countries you have visited and almost all the states.
It’s even harder to sum up in terms of a cultural idea. Maybe certain points of time are particularly iconic. The Ellroy Noir, Chandler’s intoxicated underground, Fante’s romanticized downtown, Ellis’ immoral rich kids, Hollywood’s Golden Era all come to mind. Or, if you want, Ice-T’s Crenshaw High, Ice Cube’s Friday, and Beach Boy’s Surfing USA, or Guns’n’Roses on the Strip. But the idea of it as a Wild West town died with the westerns. Now the biggest Stagecoach in LA will have Brad Paisley headlining it. The biggest building on the immortal/immoral Sunset Boulevard might be the Church of Scientology. Some people won’t eat meat or trans-fat whatevers but indulge themselves in tons of other substances. I don’t know if it’s the Wild West or just a wild place. I guess the oxymoron isn’t true everywhere. I guess.
Somehow it’s all good. I enjoy it. I can’t get enough of the possibilities of what I can find here. It’s so varied that any passing mental diversion can be indulged fully to the point of obsession. I don’t know how to live here cause I can’t find a way to describe the mutation the citizens witness day by day. It creeps over the city, a flux that moves from neighborhood to neighborhood dropping new things in unused spaces. But whatever you do don’t test it. The more you test the more it engulfs. Every fascination is indulged here, sometimes to unknown results and powers. It’s easy to lose yourself because there is something here for you, but whether you get out alive is another story.
So when I read something about how to live in Los Angeles I have to take a read it twice. In instances like this, it’s the equivalent of summing up a person by their shoes and hat. Everyone knows if someone has a certain type of shoes or a hat when they first meet a person. But after that, when do you get to know them?The writer presents LA as fake as any other big city on the planet except drenched in smog and sun. Big woop – so is every metropolis near a Cancer line. There is an identity in this city. But where is it?
I can’t define it into just one article, concept, or idea. Mostly because I know I’ll be missing something. And that something could be anything – race, creed, gender, hobby or occupation. Talking about Mexican American lawyers forgets about the Korean rappers and completely ignores the Valley. This isn’t like other major cities who bundle their identity into one fantastic concept. It can’t be sold as “New York, New York” (a grand extortion of the city) or “Sweet Home Chicago” (once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave). We live with “I Love LA.” Randy Newman doesn’t even say why he loves it, just what he’s doing. But he scripts out a plot where city is a manicured backdrop for people live outside because, well, we love it.
Being different isn’t very different here because, well, everyone is different. It’s life, in all of its jumbled ups and downs, saturating a California coastline in a toxic champagne haze. There’s a lot of people here, all living, dying for a square inch, sometimes getting lucky and sometimes getting the raw end of the deal. Some hate you, some love you, and they are all different. Everyone is a spokesman for their story in the city.
It’s just that some stories are bigger than others. And everyone here loves a good story.