On Leaving Los Angeles …

I’m not sure you can call this week’s Lives essay by Rachel Cline in the back of The New York Times magazine brilliant. Critiques of Los Angeles always seem hackneyed and trite to those who never lived there. Cline, however, captures the gothic feel of Los Angeles, how time slips away and one month becomes ten years overnight, leaving you with nothing but a few fragmented memories:

I lived in Los Angeles for almost 10 years, but it all runs together. I can never remember what happened when. In memory, I’m always driving down a sunny stretch of road, listening to National Public Radio, trying not to spill my latte. Sometimes I have a splitting headache, which must mean I am on the east side or in the valley, and sometimes the ocean is glittering nearby. Occasionally I can remember the jacarandas being in bloom, which means, what? May? But that still doesn’t tell me the year. It’s just an odd lot of incidents, a memory salad.

I was in Los Angeles last month.  One afternoon, I decided to drive to a favorite shop in Pico-Robertson. I parked my car on a side street, in front of a 1930s Spanish four-plex with an “Apartment For Rent” sign in front. I sat in the car staring at it, fighting the urge to jot down the posted telephone number or ring the bell. On the radio I heard “This is KPCC: Pasadena, Los Angeles, Orange County,” and the light came down crystal white, highlighting the just-over-the-peak purple jacaranda blossoms.

I couldn’t imagine what I was thinking and, after a minute, I forced myself to go on my way. But I suspect Cline would have known right away what was motivating me, because I realized what it was while reading her piece. I saw myself ringing the bell and walking into the house. It’s the fall of 1995, and my husband and I are preparing to move to LA from New York, and we are looking at homes and apartments for rent in West Hollywood and the adjacent areas. I thought I would walk into that four-plex just off of Robertson and find me, and I would get a chance to start all over again.

Los Angeles is a city where you see ghosts walking in daylight.  Sometimes, the ghosts are you.

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