Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome to Dystopia

There's an episode of The Twilight Zone where a young, beautiful painter, played by Lois Nettleton in her prime (if Lois actually had a prime, but for the purposes of this post, we'll say she did) and her apartment building neighbors are trapped in a kind of literal hell, as some cosmologic calamity propels the Earth closer and closer to the Sun. Progressively, the temperatures rise, Lois becomes all sweaty and shiny, then sheds her clothing (down to her silky full dress slip, bra and girdle -- what were women thinking?), while food and drink become scarce, and the streets of New York become a (no pun intended) "hot-bed" of savagery and primal desperation.

That's happening here in LA. Okay, presumably not the "Earth closer to the Sun" thing -- although that's not too difficult to believe, given the Gobi-like temperatures we've been experiencing. It's been well over 100 degrees every day for the past week. But it isn't just the heat. There is something unhealthy about this heat. The air smells vaguely of animal feces and rotting meat. Did I say, "vaguely"? I lied. Nothing vague about it at all. I walk out my door and I'm hit with the overpowering smell of disintegrating cat and raccoon feces, left by the army of rogue and feral critters that inhabit the vacant lot behind our house.

But it isn't just my front walk. The whole city is smelling like something crawled underneath it and died. I'm not sure if it’s the watering ban, or the fact that it is so hot no one is cleaning out their street gutters, but LA is turning into 1884 Paris, with the open sewer system and the constant, unabated flow of waste and decay. I don't feel like working. I don't feel like working out. I just feel like staying home in the air-conditioning and laying about. But today I had to run two errands. One was a trip to the library at CSUN, and the other was a trip to my mailbox to pick up my book delivery.

CSUN was practically deserted, though there were two parking enforcement cops on duty. When I asked one of them where I was allowed to park on a Saturday, his response came in a blathering, incoherent jibberjabber that didn't match up at all with the question I asked him. I'm going to chalk that up to the heat, but I have a feeling that's just how he talks on any given day. I went to return my books that were due today, and renew one of them. I was supposed to check two more out, but I left the print-outs of the catalog registry on the car seat next to me, and was not going to go back to retrieve them. Screw it. I'll buy the books if I have to. (And I do, because they're for school.)

At the UPS Store, I collected my mail and package, and stopped into the sushi restaurant in the shopping center there (sorry, Jim -- I ate sushi again without you). On the way to the shopping center, I was nearly side-swiped once and T-boned once by two drivers talking on cell phones while driving (you guys DO know that's illegal now, right?), and nearly hit head-on by a soccer mom in her brand-new, no-plates-yet Range Rover, as she hightailed it into the El Pollo Loco drive-thru.

By the time I got home, I honestly felt like stripping down to my full dress slip, bra and girdle.

I'm not sure what's happening to my hometown. I was born here, raised here. To people who move here, it's a city full of iconic landmarks they grew up watching on television. Grauman's Chinese, the Hollywood Bowl, the Watts Towers, Venice Beach.... None of that means anything to me. To me, I turn a corner and... this is where my best friend in fifth grade, Tracey Taylor, used to live. Over there is where I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. That shopping center used to have an ice rink where I learned how to skate, and then, years later, my daughter learned how to skate (and once skated her way into Tai Babylonia's heart, as a matter of fact).

Now, it's a gigantic, festering, decaying garbage heap/cat litter box. People don't curb their pets, lawns are dead, arsonists are burning the hillsides, people are colliding with you head-on, just to beat you to the tastiest morsel of lime-marinated, grilled chicken breast.

And it's hot.

No... Wait... I take that back... Let me rephrase that. It's FUCKING hot!!! It's so fucking hot, I want to sit down and just cry and cry and cry. I want to cry like Lois Nettleton cried, in her white, silky slip. But no one would be able to tell if we were crying, Lois and I, because we'd be all sweaty (but in a sexy, Hollywood kinda way), and they'd all be left to wonder.

I always imagined I'd live my whole life in this town and never question it. Now, I question it. I go to school in a place with a marine climate, where the weather sits between 65 and 85 degrees -- rarely hotter or colder. I have friends who live even further north, in Santa Barbara, who rarely turn on their air-conditioner, and that's mostly to control humidity.

Sadly, I think my city is dying. The part of the city that doesn't live like a parasitic sucker-fish of the back of the show business shark is dying. Industries are leaving. Unemployment is high. People who emigrated here are moving back to their home states, or to other states that offer more promise, without the arm-and-leg cost of living. It's one thing to watch a city slowly languishing when you've come here, hoping to make your dreams come true. But to watch a city die, when that city is the only town in your dreams when you dream -- not because of the celebs or the famous eateries or Melrose Avenue -- but because it is the only one you've ever known intimately -- that's pretty disheartening. You want to give your child and any children she has down the road the kind of magical, temperate, genial childhood that you knew. And you realize now that that hometown -- the one you grew up in, that the émigrés treat like a doormat place to wipe they dirty, excrement crusted shoes before they roll up to Montana, to similarly pollute that state -- that hometown you knew is gone. Maybe it died in the '92 riots. Maybe it only developed a bad cough then, and then rolled over and began the stove-pipe breathing when the state elected (twice, mind you) a bodybuilder to the governorship.

I'm not really sure, and I'm too busy sweating and lighting incense to keep out the stench from the sidewalk below. I am left here to plot my exit strategy. To where, I'm not sure. Neither do I know how or when. Only that someday in the foreseeable future, I will take my leave of here, say good-bye to my childhood memories and the places of my heart, and find another town to call home.

Preferably one that doesn't smell like cat poop.


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