Part of the blessing or curse of travel is coming home to the place you call home; and experiencing it as a foreign country, a strange locale with odd people, bizarre customs and illogical folkways.
I was out of Los Angeles for not a very long time, only 3 1/2 weeks, but it was long enough and far enough and deep enough (in Malaysia, Thailand and Tokyo) to come back here and rediscover the old glaring sunshine, the friendly yet surface friendships, the lost, pretty, young faces, the mediocre food and wide monotonous streets I left behind only on September 19th.
Small interactions, which one might never encounter in Japan, for example, came at me in abrupt banality on my first few days back.
At Chevron, on Burbank and Kester, I was filling up my car when a strange man yelled at me, “Hey, how much you pay per month for your car?” It was none of his business. But it would have been more un-American of me to tell him that. Instead, being friendly, I told him the truth, even though it felt intrusive.
At Starbucks, on Riverside near Pass Avenue, I was writing alone on my laptop. A woman next to me leaned over and asked, “What are you writing?” It was my private creation, my personal space, yet she felt open and relaxed enough to ask me. What if I had been writing a letter of resignation at my law firm? What if I had been creating a mean email to my ex-lover? What if I wanted to be left alone?
At Santa Anita Park, leaving the racetrack last Saturday, I took out my camera and captured the sunlight on the buildings. Crowds were also exiting, including one woman who asked me, out of the blue, “Why are you taking a picture of that building?”
All these small incidents are either invigoratingly wondrous to those who admire the openness of Americans, or perhaps, to non-American sensibilities, they reek of rudeness, an inability to respect the private information and work of others.
Yet, I am through and through an American, exposed in my life through my writings, my photography and my online presence. I’ve gone up to strangers and handed them my business card. I’ve talked and asked and intruded upon friends, families, enemies and strangers.
At coffee today, I met my friend, writer Yassir, who told me about a man he met at Whole Foods who knew the head of a large publishing company and offered to send Yassir’s work over to his well-placed associate. Yassir also spoke of meetings, connections, people in high places, people with money, people in Beverly Hills, Century City and Bel Air who were handling big projects, some projects worth half a billion. And I again was thrust, conversationally, into that world of this city, a place of half-baked people and half-realized ideas, people who have big dreams and big talk, and sometimes convince and sell others on some spectacular imaginary creations. Instant friendships and instant dreams, formed in the checkout line at Whole Foods.
Why, even in unemployment, do we keep believing and buying into the mythology of this city? What do we finally become, after our youth and good looks have dried up, in the year round sunshine, after we pass the point of un-employability, when we finally know that we cannot make a living at the juice bar, behind the counter, in the retail store, driving to the audition, pitching at meetings, texting to a stranger online, what do we do when all the doors are slammed shut and we find intolerable even one more day in the dismally happy city of Los Angeles?