I would never go back to LA. Never ever. Moving out of California felt like being released from the hospital or walking out of the DMV. There was no way I’d willingly return.
Back in the day, I lived in 138. That was the number on my door, my mailbox, and spray painted on the rectangle of asphalt designated for my car. My VW was transported via flatbed about a month into my stay in Los Angeles. For about the same amount of money as a used car, it was driven across the country on a big rig by a guy who looked like the toothless villain of a psychological thriller set in the Midwest. But as everyone knows, having a vehicle is essential to even saying the words “Los Angeles,” and I was grateful to stop relying on my coworkers at the studio to transport me back and forth.
One of the things I hated most about LA was the traffic. Being from Long Island, this seems ridiculous. (Nassau County invented traffic. Seriously. Look it up.) But LA does traffic with a vengeance.
Back when I lived there, Los Angeles appeared to be the ugliest, most boring, least desirable place on the planet. When I expressed a muted version of my opinion to any Californians who inquired as to how I was handling the adjustment, they asked me where I was living. When I told them Burbank they universally exclaimed, “Oooh. That’s why.” And then treated me like a pariah, lest I invite them over for tea.
But I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. For one thing, I had no time to look at other places. My days were run on a very tight schedule: up by 6AM, head to work by 7:15, get home by 7:30PM, drunk by 8, asleep whenever my liver and brain got confused and I could no longer maintain consciousness. Weekends were spent sleeping in front of the television and repeatedly walking the sweltering mile to and from a Ralph’s grocery store in order to stock up on cheap magnums of white wine, cereal, and skim milk. I did not socialize, after having discovered from a few attempts at making friends through my job that shopping, going to the beach, and cocaine were considered the zenith of recreational activities.
(Now that I’ve become buddy-buddy with a few Los Angelenos, I know that this is not always the case.)
My west coast apartment came furnished with the minimal accouterments of a soft-core porn film: a sloping bed frame, a glass-topped table with dangerously precarious metal legs, a couch that smelled like Cheez-Doodles, venetian blinds, and a bedstand made out of a piece of plastic that was simultaneously rounded at the edges yet surprisingly sharp against my shins when I drunkenly stumbled to and from the bathroom at night. Everything, including the ominously stained carpet, was light beige in a way that indicated that it could have been white, once.
The complex itself was a bleached stucco duplex that didn’t appear to have any truly enclosed spaces. The hallways were reminiscent of the motels shown in America’s Most Wanted reenactments. I never saw any of the other tenants, though a television screamed what sounded like an unending Spanish-language talk show behind one of the doors on my floor. One morning there were blood droplets on the ground leading in a path to the elevator. They dried to a rust brown and remained there for the duration of my stay. No fucking joke.
Another reason why I spent so many years cursing LA was the neighborhood of Burbank itself. The six block radius in any direction was a string of bushes burned from the sun, one lawn filled with garden gnomes, and houses in desperate need of repair…but with brand new Mercedeses and Porches in the driveway. Other than variations in the state of dilapidation, every ranch house looked the same. Although I originally vowed not to drink before sunset on the weekends, the sun set at 10PM and by 10AM I wanted to kill myself.
I had loved my job and seemed to do it well, but I couldn’t find many positive aspects of the city as I was living in it. Five dollar bottles of wine were pretty much the only perk. I suppose that it’s even more ironic that I’ve developed a tentative love of LA now that I’m sober and outside of the film industry. Perhaps the best way to break it down was crafted by the late Biggie Smalls, “Fuck hoes exquisite, Cali, great place to visit.”
Yup. Years later, it is.