On leaving Los Angeles


All urban centers are filled with dwellers and visitors just about to depart. It is, partly, the constant population flux that makes cities compelling to explore, to live in, to pass through. Los Angeles has its own very particular place in the global landscape as a city of flows. People come and breath the smoggy stuff of it in. They love it or hate it or nestle into an ambivalence about it. Then life interferes and sends them meandering elsewhere. They leave. Or, sometimes, they stay. Either way these movements change the city, and in turn, make it the sort of strange and compelling ecology that transforms those who move within it.

I am, alas, quickly nearing my departure from Los Angeles. There is very little conflict in my feeling about this city. I adore it. I swoon. I am drunk with love for Los Angeles. But leave it, I must.

I’m Cleveland bound, dear readers. And that may mean for you more exciting and exploratory posts. For me, it means an adventure and a mourning. I already feel the terrible weight of this loss. Los Angeles is the city of my coming of a certain age, the city that housed my least bearable sorrows and served as harbor for my most brilliant joys.

Los Angeles is a city that must be sick with the trite, the inadequate ways I and many (and better*) writers before me could list its gifts. Those who have named its faults (and there have been many**) did so with sometimes vicious and intentional, sometimes naive myopia. The city responded to both with equal indifference. She*** will treat me as she did them. If there is any feeling that might come for her in response to my departure, it will be, at most, a negligible sorrow.

Ohio calls. And many other places call many other Angelenos, and would-be Angelenos, and passers-through and by.  When those calls come, Los Angeles mocks them. Or at least she seems to for me. She glistens in the sun. She whispers about her mild winters and lets maps to her secret corners unfurl on the desk. She coyly offers a picture of just what a bitch she will be if you really do leave her. I am a sucker for her charms in just the way an itinerant urbanite would be. I’m sure that as soon as I really walk out the door I will be filled with regret that I did. I’ll pay for leaving.

But such are the manic loves offered by the lovers of cities, and such are the cities worthy of such ridiculous, impossible loves.

Los Angeles will be for me, perhaps always, the city that got away. In fact she might be such for most visitors, for most native-born, even for those still held in her particular, bizarre embrace. She is a city a heart can love until it breaks. Unknowable but familiar, she returns affection only partially. Sprawling, traffic-clogged, imperfect—magical.

I just may spend my life wanting desperately to return.

Take me back, someday, Los Angeles. Please.****


*Reyner Banham was a lover of Los Angeles, more faithful than most. To name just one.

**Nathanael West did not, it seems, really love Los Angeles. He did not suffer from the myopia to which I refer but he wrote poor Todd Hackett and Homer Simpson into being so that they seem only able to view, if lustfully, the awful, the violent, the wretched phenomenon of the city as it was.

***I struggled with choosing the gender in my anthropomorphization of the city. I settled on this particular pronoun not because I in any way support the tropes that perform in our language what translates in our culture to the asymmetrical distribution of power by gender, but because the depth and breadth of my love for Los Angeles is the sort I have felt in my life far more often for women than for men. I trust you, dear visitors, to read it thusly.

****I recognize that this post takes itself and its prose too seriously. So be it. I am serious about loving Los Angeles.

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