Thursday, July 29, 2010

it's funny...

thought i would take a break from writing about the downside of where i live, just for a moment. because the truth is that if i really hated los angeles, i would not be here. so i hope that you are not getting that impression. i don't hate los angeles. i am just not in sync with it so much anymore. but what better time to write a bit about what i love about this city, especially because these are the things that i would hope to also find in the city that i eventually move to.

it's funny...when i think about it. the reason that i came to this city has very little to do with why i am still here. i lived my young adult life in san diego, which at the time felt very cosmopolitan, but in retrospect was really just like making cookies in an easybake oven--so not the real deal. san diego bills itself as "america's finest city", and that would be just great, if it were a real city. but it's not. it is, instead, a support structure for the beach and the navy, and not much more. it is shockingly beautiful, but it is also without meaning, if that can be said without malice. if anything, san diego's problem is that it refuses to be what it is--a coastal navy town. it is trying to be san francisco, and even los angeles knows better than to try to be san francisco.

i read a while back that they had built a bunch of high rise condos in downtown san diego that were not selling--so much so in fact that in one building there was only one male resident, who, knowing that he was alone in the building, took to taking out his trash in the nude. he gained notoriety as the "naked trash guy", or something of that order. the reason for the vacancies was that the units were not appealing to the people who might be looking to buy: young san diegans with children. in other words, they were building for well off hipster singles, another city's populace (san francisco?). that is how it has always been in san diego. trying to be something that it is not.

nevertheless, i loved living there during my 20's, before all the high rises. i lived in north park, hillcrest, and mission heights. i worked as a bartender in the largest gay nightclub in town, and at one point in time could have been considered a "local personality", since my work as a performer and show producer was getting some press. i felt like a grown up, even if i wasn't. i had my own apartments and jobs and cars and all that, but what i didn't have was a sense of myself off the stage or out from behind a bar. outside of those contexts i was, in essence, like all those new empty high rises downtown--an impressive shell with nothing inside. i know that i could not live in san diego again. well, i could, but i won't. it is not home anymore. it is still pretty, but it is not much more. i have, uh, outgrown it.

the decision to move up to los angeles was based on the idea that this is where i needed to be if i were to become a success in the entertainment industry. i was interested in playing in the big leagues, and i wanted to be a star. unlike san diego, los angeles is, for arguments sake, a real city. it is one of the handful of real cities in the world, along with new york, san francisco, chicago, hong kong, paris, london, berlin, sydney, buenos aires, and rome. that is pretty much the list, folks. there are other cities, of course, but great cities are more or less limited to this list. so what makes a great city great? specifically, what makes los angeles great?

most obviously, the same thing that makes los angeles great is the very thing that will eventually drive me out of the city--the entertainment industry. this is where movies are made, well, here and toronto, but you know what i mean. i went to a movie couple weeks ago at the mann chinese theater, and while i was waiting for my buddy to get there, i marveled at the sheer number of people taking in the famed hand and foot prints that cover the front courtyard of this landmark movie palace. people from all over the world. hollywood has been impacting culture in the world for nearly 100 years, and that impact continues to grow stronger. for decades now the most creative people in the country have come to los angeles to create, and that can be seen as a good thing. there are still people who come here to create. (of course, creativity brings along its own certain insanity, of which i have written about in other posts.) inside the chinese theater, the walls are red and gold, and chinese sculptures adorn the ceiling and lobby. it is glamorous and massive, and when the dolby sound announces itself, the seats literally rock. and this is not the only theater that has this impact. there are some amazing movie theaters in los angeles, some old, and some new. if you are going to see a movie the way it is supposed to be seen, this theater is the kind of theater in which to do it. you might even have kim novak showing up for a special hitchcock tribute, as is happening this month at the egyptian theater. kim fucking novak!.

but as well as los angeles is known for its theater interiors, it is equally highly regarded for its exteriors. there are the miles and miles of beaches--every kind of beach you could ask for. my personal favorite is venice beach--the venice beach that was known for creating "muscle beach", and home of the golds gym where arnold and franco used to build their bodies.

venice beach was created to be an homage to venice, italy, and thus the canals. i have often dreamed of living in one of the bungalows along the canals, hearing the ducks quack and checking the mooring on my rowboat. there used to be a vagabond artist community that lived among the canals. not so much anymore--mostly upscale boomers, industry types, and gays now, but amidst the costly refurbishing you can still see an occasional vintage bungalow, peeling paint and slanted porch and all. and you just know that the owner, if they still live there, could tell you stories of the old days of hippies and surf life and really really good pot.

there is santa monica pier, and the classic roller coaster in the middle of it, and the summer music concerts where all the really fun people listen on the beach below for free(instead of on the pier itself), drinking wine from trader joes and gradually, as the evening progresses, becoming more friendly with the folks around their blanket, if you know what i mean. there are the rings and bars south of the pier where you can see beautifully athletic men and women swing like monkeys from ring to ring, or martial artists practice their craft with each other, or gymnasts young and old perform flips and handstands.

fifteen walking minutes from my apartment there is the hollywood forever cemetery, home of the famously deceased--including rudolph valentino--where, for ten bucks on summer saturday nights, you can take a picnic dinner and dine among the tombs as a classic film shows on the mausoleum wall. next week they are showing all about eve.

a little further north, on cahuenga before hollywood blvd., there is the spotlight bar, which has been serving 'em up for forty years, and which continues to hold sway despite the reimagining of the cahuenga corridor. gerry, the bartender, makes sure you know his name right off the bat, and he finds out yours too, and he will introduce you to whoever is on either side of you before getting your beer, so that you really have no excuse to not talk to anyone. most of the patrons here are gay, and absolutely nuts to boot, but it sure never leads to a dull night. every person in there is a story, and when i go there, i feel like i have one to tell as well.

there is runyon canyon, the site of old screen star tom mix's former estate. i have taken free yoga there on the lawn with about 40 other hollywood folk, while on the outskirts of the lawn i hear people and dogs moving up and down the trails, sometimes mixing well, other times not so much so. there is something to be said for being able to hold tree pose on a sloped lawn while three feet away a gopher pokes its head out of a hole in the ground. now that is a yoga practice!

yeah, it's funny alright. in many ways, i barely even know this city. there are more restaurants within a 1 mile radius of my apartment that i have NOT eaten at than i have eaten at. los angeles is a city that is new every day, just because it is so damn big. here, you can also be new every day, just because you can get so damn lost. here, you can forget your past or make up a new one, you can imagine an unimaginable future or lose your future completely, you can love just yourself and never lose your heart, or you can have your heart broken loving another and become rich as a result. here, you can experience magic in a low budget 99 seat theater, or experience boredom watching a $100 million movie. here, you can have your bedroom windows open to the breeze in the middle of january, and get the best produce in the world all year round. here, you can pay for someone to brew you a cup of coffee, paint your toes, rub your shoulders, clean your house, walk your dog, return your calls, buy your clothes, groceries, or drugs, here you can pay for love or sex or something in between. here, you can create a website for yourself that is just about you and nobody will laugh. here, you can have breakfast at the beach, lunch in the mountains, and dinner in the desert, all in the same day. here, you can find a $200 pair of jeans for $15 at a second hand shop. here, you can ride a bicycle all year round.

and yet, with all of this, i don't love it anymore. but...i don't hate it.

it's funny...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

the thing about aging

i should probably add a "part one" designator to this post, since there is a lot about aging that i need to write about. let's see how it goes first, though, in the body of this post, before i start messing with the title and making promises of sequels to come.

now you may wonder what could be so bad about the prospect of aging in los angeles. and if you are one of those people who are wondering about this, i will probably assume that either a) you do not live in los angeles; or b) you are young. granted, it could also be that, like me, you are aging in los angeles, but, unlike me, you are loving it; but then it would be best that you confine that experience to your own blogs, or to the comments section of this one. because, readers, this post is about how aging in los angeles sucks, so you might as well strap in for the ride.


the other day i went to a dermatologist to have my skin looked at for sun damage. as a kid of the 70's (back when a tan was considered healthy and farrah fawcett was the image of bronzed health), i have had my share of exposure to the sun. i have probably had more than my share, since in southern california in the 70's one would often spend considerable time acquiring that healthy "golden glow". those of us with darker skin are not immune from the long term effects of the sun, either. i remember how, in his later years, my father had problems with cancerous lesions on his face that had to be removed, and he was full blooded mexican, so i want to make sure that there is nothing pre-cancerous on my face.

anyway, in the paperwork i had to fill out before the exam, there were not only the usual questions about my health history and the reasons why i was there, but i also was questioned on whether or not i thought i looked younger, older, or exactly my age, and if i was okay with any wrinkles i might have on my face. uh, okay. in a nutshell, i answered "younger", and "yes", respectively. now, let me clarify that i do in fact look younger than my age, and there are several reasons why that might be, but i think it is primarily because i have taken really great care of my health for many years, and it seems to be paying off. but i also have wrinkles, folks. i have them on my forehead, and i have them under my eyes. but i am 47 years old!my face is the face of a (healthy) 47 year old! so...i think that i only look younger than my age because most people my age look olderthan their age--i am what 47 should look like!

but looking healthy is not enough in los angeles. you can't have wrinkles!

really. i mean, really.(where is katherine hepburn when we need her?) wrinkles signify age, and that is becoming more and more of a negative in this town, even for men. for all the talk of how 40 is the new 20, there is an equal amount of talk about how you begin to lose cultural significance as you get older.

the only way that you can be important and visible in los angeles as an older person is if you are either famous or rich. being both helps tremendously. otherwise, you are pretty much out of the picture. i dare you to challenge me on this. now it doesn't help that there are so many older people here who are completely off their rockers...i mean, bat-shit crazy. and when i see these people, i can't help but wonder if they turned crazy as they got older, or if they were that way when they were young. in other words, does los angeles make you crazy if you stay here long enough?

take the old people who come into whole foods, for instance. there is betty, who is known for throwing her poop all over the women's bathroom, when she does not crap her pants; and there is that guy with the bad toupee who always wears the usa olympic windbreaker and pretty much samples his way through the store, buying nothing, then gets angry when you question how many samples he is taking from the hotbar; then there is the african american dude who told me once that salt was a poison because it is used to clean car radiators(?), and then wanted to know why we use it in so many of our recipes, and that what did i know because i didn't do 100 push ups a day like he did (what???), and when i told him "okay, sir", and turned away, he called me a fucking faggot white boy (what??????); and then there is the woman known as "grandma", who won't allow a black person to serve her pizza, and...must i go on??

i wish it weren't this way. it would be nice if the older people who shopped there were nice, and aware, and wise, and interesting, and engaged (like i hope to be). i would even take two out of five. but maybe, just maybe, that is not possible in los angeles. maybe, if you stay here long enough to become invisible, you just go nuts. i don't know. i don't know.


i remember how, many many years ago, my sister and her family were visiting at our house in san diego from where they lived in northern california. as their summer visit came to an end, and they were preparing to drive north to their home, one of their young daughters became nearly hysterical at the thought of driving through los angeles during the daytime. she was convinced that they would never get through. i remember her crying and full of fear, saying "we can'tgo through los angeles, we just won't make it!" her fear was so real and tragic. my sister did her best to comfort and reassure her, and of course, they did drive through los angeles that day, and they did make it through all the way back to placerville, but that image has stayed with me for all these years, for some reason. there was something very terrifying about los angeles to my young niece, much as there is to me today.

it wasn't always this way. i used to like los angeles more. when i first got here nearly 20 years ago, it was a goal of mine to conquer this city (i'm gonna own this town!). it was difficult for sure, as it always is getting used to a new city, but i felt that this is where i wanted to be, as a performer, and that in no short time i would find my place here. and people were different back then as well. this was before the internet, before cell phones, before all the gadgets that now serve so effectively as shields against relating to others in real life. but i slowly began to notice something about this city as i lived and worked here over time and had an opportunity to live in several different areas within the city limits. what i noticed is that living in los angeles is like having all your greatest fears move into your neighborhood, and then finding out that they all make more money than you do. what i noticed is that despite the increased connection that our phones and the internet offer us 24/7, people seem lonelier than ever. what i noticed is that the more that young folks have gained financial and cultural power, the angrier they have become. what i noticed is that i began to stop loving los angeles.

but the biggest red flag for me has been noticing how all the above have affected my own interpersonal relationships--in many ways, i have responded positively, and in many ways, i have not. without boring you with the particulars, i will say that when i draw a straight line from who i am today to who i will probably end up being if i stay in los angeles, i don't like what i foresee. in other words, as i get older, this city works against my developmental quirks. in other words, i don't want to end up going nuts.