First published here in November, 2010:
Two days ago, I noticed an inordinate number of dead things on the way to the Mall. There was something in the road that resembled a little hedgehog (probably a baby porcupine), prickly and crushed in the street. A few yards away, an earthworm that had gotten caught on a busy sidewalk in the searing Indian summer sun. And then a bit further down, a bird, fallen, crushed and decomposing in the carefully sculpted landscaping outside of the Sun America building. All of these casualties can lead one to only one conclusion.
This city will run right over you, if you're not careful.
Today, I had occasion to drive through Beverly Hills on my way somewhere else. You can't mistake driving through Beverly Hills. The people have a look about them. Even the ones in their cars look different if they're coming from Beverly Hills. Walking down Rodeo Drive, you see the most beautiful women. They're all wearing the same uniform -- tight ponytails, calculated to show off the work of their brilliant plastic surgeon (and the work is beautiful -- not that hideous, rubbery-lipped, pug-nosed atrocity one usually sees as L.A. plastic surgery), tight t-shirts to show off their hours in the Pilates studios, expensive, well-cut designer jeans to show off the hours of yoga and spinning. Big sunglasses, wildly expensive jewelry, wildly expensive shoes, all of them seemingly desperate to be looked at, yet all of them looking exactly the same.
And all of them looking just ever-so-slightly unhappy.
I'm wondering where I'm going to be living in a month or two. I'm fat, I'm getting old, a plastic surgeon hasn't been within miles of my face, my shoes are from DSW, my shirt and jeans are from Target, I'm driving a banged up Hyundai... and... I think I can safely say that I am miles happier than the vast majority of these women.
Because they failed to be careful, and this city ran right over them.
L.A. will poison you if you let it. It's a beautiful place, full of beautiful people, and it runs on one of the most glamorous industries around. The most beautiful people come here and they work to make themselves even more beautiful, by Hollywood standards. This city tells you there is one standard only for Beauty -- the Hollywood kind. And maybe, if you're a studio executive or an agent or an actress, you buy into that lie. But there are a lot of us for whom Los Angeles isn't an entertainment mecca. It's home. It's not home because we came here with a suitcase full of dreams and a heart full of hope. It's home because we were born here, raised here, just like so many of the emigres here call Duluth, Minnesota or Syracuse, New York home.
We're not here for the glamour. We're here because here is where we have always been. We know this city -- know it like the back of our hands. This city can't lie to us. It can try, but we'll see right through it. This isn't a mecca for anything. It's just a place where people come, hoping their lives will be better and happier and more affluent than the place from whence they came. Or it's a place where people stay because it's everything they've known or want to know. Or it's just a place they move to so they don't spend the better part of every winter digging their way out of 22 inches of snow.
It won't make you happy, and it won't make you forever young. If you are beautiful, it might make you more so (with the right trainer, the right aesthetician and the right plastic surgeon), but it won't care one way or the other. It will tell you what you have to do to make it love you, you'll do it, but it still won't love you.
Let's face it -- L.A. is a bad boyfriend. If you let it, if you show it you care what it thinks about you, it will use you and abuse you, then step on you and leave your decaying, surgically enhanced carcass on the sidewalk, just like that baby porcupine.
Those sad ladies in Beverly Hills, wearing their little Rodeo Drive uniforms, with their Botoxed foreheads and their tight ponytails, will never understand that. Those of us who are from here, who belong here, who can survive here... we already know.