A month and a half outside of Los Angeles is like twenty years away from any place else. You get back disoriented and culture-shocked. Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed; everything is much better than you remembered and yet considerably worse and bleaker.
Such is my paradox upon returning to L.A in a relatively cynical and despairing state of mind following a lengthy road trip around The United States of Walmart. Crystal clear in my conscious is the elitist means of determining human value in L.A: head shots for the most menial jobs, head shots for what should be the most cerebral professions. As a result, it’s jarring to remember how far I am from the physical perfection of L.A: the people are, by far, beautiful to a point of being frightening. And here I am, having sunk into existential despair whilst grappling with the conundrum that I am not as attractive as the people I desire but too egotistical for the people with whom I am equal to. Take that outlook as I travel across America–a land of bland, wholesome appearances–and compound it with the plastic, waxed, dyed, tucked, Spanxed ideals of L.A, and it’s enough to consider tying a rock to my leg and wandering into the ocean…only I haven’t achieved the notoriety of Virginia Woolf and it’s doubtful my legacy of half-started novels is enough to make me live forever. Can I help it if I believe in an ideal world where jobs are determined by skill and ability as opposed to superficial and arbitrary beauty? Or that if we’re going to really embrace the concept that L.A is but a stage and we are all players, we should at least determine the higher echelon of jobs by asking people to explain if they understood Inception and then immediately shredding the applications of anyone frustrated that a movie asked them to think for three seconds?
The point? Shortly after my homecoming, I get a phone call from my beloved friend Josh. We have firm yet half-assed plans to meet for lunch at some point of the day, although in the heat, neither of us are particularly hungry. Josh has to sneak into a doctor’s appointment for blood tests, because their phone lines aren’t picking up and their internet is down and we’re all going to die one day because no one can function without computers. So I agree, with apprehension, to meet him in The Valley.
I grew up in Studio City, so I am entitled to regard it with complete disdain. My elementary school was populated by Jewish American Princesses whose idea of a play date was to invite me over to tour their house while informing me how much everything in it cost. Half of my high school works at the local Wells Fargo. The other half are probably dead. Everyone parading down Ventura Boulevard emits a sensation that they truly believe traffic cameras are actually cleverly concealed reality show crews capturing their every audacious, ridiculous move. It is illegal to be seen walking without an impossibly hideous inbred puggle-chihuahua hybrid tucked under your arm and a revolting iced coffee drink in your hand, regardless of gender. So I try to avoid it like the plague.
“Aroma Cafe,” Josh instructs me, on the corner of Tujunga and Moorepark. I get in my car and put the iPod on random: “Forever Young” by Alphaville pops up. Appropriate.
This is exceptionally close to my first job ever, as a barista to the stars at the local studios and people picking up their laundry next door at the dry cleaners where my former best friends/mortal enemies (we have since made amends) worked, because this world is shockingly small. The neighborhood has blossomed since I lived there, resembling a really fake set for Greenwich Village. I’m reluctantly impressed.
As I enter the cafe to seek out the comforting figure of Josh amidst the plastic and perfect and almost hideous crowd, I’m instantly greeted by a set of intense blue eyes belonging to some hottie on Bones. Shit. As soon as I see him, I realize I’m dressed like garbage and forgot I lived in a city where every arbitrary task must involve a cautiously coordinated ensemble. My hair is wet and my Brazilian Blowout has grown out underneath my cut, so I look super like I’m wearing a weird witch wig.
I back out slowly, away from the hottie, and sit on a bench where I proceed to text everyone I know because A) in modern times, it is impossible to just sit by yourself without texting because you’re obviously a creepy loser and B) I gotta tell everyone how hot this guy is. So he comes outside and keeps looking over at me from behind his tinted glasses, but I’m not vain enough to think it’s in admiration. He has a look like ‘how did one of the Hollywood hobos end up here?’ He gives a perfect Latina model-type a lingering stare of appreciation as she walks by before greeting another attractive woman who’s got legs more hairless than Barbie’s.
Josh shows up and we order a salad from a server who absolutely hates us because we aren’t pretty and famous. Behind her, I eye a gorgeous baristo who greatly resembles a blond version of a guy I totally wanted to bang in college. I assume he is as gay as the guy in college probably was. But this is L.A, where the gayer the look, the straighter the guy. Now I’m confused.
We sit down and I’m instantly horribly distracted by a woman directly behind Josh, facing me, who has purchased Melanie Griffith’s face. I can’t stop staring at her and she keeps glancing at me, and I can’t tell which one of us started it but it’s like a stand-off. She’s not wearing makeup, and as a passionate advocate of no makeup, I think ‘jesus fucking christ. Put some makeup on.’ It defies logic to spend so much money on that face that can’t even move or produce expressions, only to not bother trying to cover up its mask-like qualities when stepping out. After a while, I begin to feel sad for her. The only way she can register emotion is through her eyes, which I imagine are screaming with sadness and despair over what women in this city have to do to keep age at an arm’s length.
My appetite is ruined by this experience, which I suppose is good since above all else, if you are not going to be plastic surgery perfection in L.A, you better be fucking skinny. She and her party leave as I push my salad around seeking out avocados. They are replaced by four ridiculous people in scrubs. I’m now completely fascinated by them. Half of them look like Gray’s Anatomy doctors and the other half look like the cheap actors who get cast in Time Warner-directed commercials for local dentists. One guy has that profoundly stupid face. You know what I speak of, thanks to Jersey Shore. The big, strong jawline, the pursed, pouting mouth, the eyes that sag a little in the corners. Tribal tattoos on his enormous biceps? Check. A girl beside him is one of those people who actually disappears when you take off her makeup, so it’s impossible to judge her looks. And before you get all ‘omg, superficial!’ I am in L.A and every day here is a casting audition.
I think I’m the only person observing this, when Josh says, “I really want to ask them what their specific practice is.” Since Josh is the nicest person who never judges or says anything negative about people, this makes me laugh for about thirty minutes. “Seriously,” he says. “I want to ask.”
We never find out, sadly. As I drive back over the hill, “Young Forever” by Jay-Z, featuring a sample from Alphaville comes on my shuffle. No lie. Out of 10,000 something songs.
As I’m driving just south of Hollywood Blvd. on Cahuenga, pondering how much this song tragically has been distorted to match the peculiar values Los Angeles follows, a hobo wrapped in a towel with a sailor hat on skips past my car. I stop to admire him and realize how refreshing and less weird it is to be around his kind of weirdo. As he talks to himself and a Kia driver with a sideways pony-tail and a Looney Tunes shirt pulls up and cuts me off, I feel reassured about my world.