At the beginning of my “year off” before college (nine years later it still hasn’t ended), I moved to L.A. from my Massachusetts boarding school to work for a casting director. I lived in the Palisades, and it took two hours for two Rapid buses to deposit me at Beverly and Sweetzer. This meant I arrived late and sweaty every morning. I was the worst assistant ever. If your coffee was prepared correctly, it was sheer luck. My biggest fear was lunch hour. I’d approach the counter of Joan’s on Third, twitching with anxiety as I presented 12 credit cards, each attached to an order written out in psychotically carbo-phobic detail. Mercifully, I started getting regular acting work and quit. When I run into actors who auditioned while I was there, I half expect them to say, “Didn’t I get food poisoning from a sandwich you brought me?”
Eventually I moved to Venice. My first night there I passed a homeless man outside Mao’s Kitchen and offered him my leftovers. He asked if they were vegan, and when I shook my head he waved me away, mumbling something about me being a murderer. My mother’s theory is that all the homeless in L.A. are good-looking because they are failed actors. That or the vegan diet, I guess. I was pretty naive that first summer. At a pool party in Hollywood, a girl asked if I was new in town. Maybe she could tell by my corduroy two-piece suit on a 95-degree day. She had only one bit of advice: “Don’t fuck Tommy Lee.” Noted.
It is a well-worn argument that L.A. has no real culture, but that’s bullshit. Recently I discovered the Apple Sisters, a 1940s musical comedy troupe made up of three dazzling dames who blow the roof off Largo at the Coronet. I met them while knocking back Prohibition cocktails at my favorite watering hole, the Varnish, downtown. I only drink downtown these days, mostly because of the 24-hour $1 tacos.
It’s been said that San Francisco is a city of smart people with no ambition, New York is a city of smart people with more ambition, and L.A. is a city of dumb people with the most ambition. This is harsh. After all, L.A. is the city of Bukowski and Bret Easton Ellis, but also of Angelyne, the original Kim Kardashian. Her blond wig barely visible over the dash of her pink Corvette, this swimsuit-clad billboard model of indeterminate age embodies this city’s limitless enthusiasm for the absurd. Years ago a friend dared me to go to a chic Hollywood restaurant wearing a furry dog mask, complete with ears and a creepy tongue. Not one person questioned the costume.
Now I live in Los Feliz, which is really Venice with less beach and more irony. I have fallen into a groovy romance with the city, though I still don’t understand why there are two San Vicentes. Before obtaining my blessed navigational machine, I was known to call friends from the 101 freeway, screaming “North or south?!” I will always be a tourist here. Perpetually lost but impressed by palm trees.