Open Letter To Los Angeles
I love you. There. I said it.
I love you like Rob. He was all sandy-brown hair, tan khaki pants, and blasé t-shirt looking. A narcoleptic kid who sat across from me in 12th grade English class, nodding off while Mrs. J’s flappy face whirled on about Beowulf. His private act made public felt beautifully vulnerable — an open invitation for the class to dream along with him, and often I did.
Los Angeles, like Rob, I love how you dream in public. How you inspired my own dream, which in 2004, went something like this — I would move to your city, and maintain a sharp haircut. I would get a job at a television station, shuffle papers in a real office, and kick the copy machine. I would grow easily exasperated – No, I don’t work on weekends. Yet, I would be charmingly assertive – Yes, I will take that phone call. I would climb into an elevator full of suits, adorably fix my shoulder pads, and pull my briefcase into my chest right before the door slides shut. Then, I would plow through gridlock traffic, slam open my apartment door, wiggle my heels off, and fall into your arms with a glass of Pinot.
I would cheers to you, Los Angeles.
Yes, it’s true. I dreamt all of this and more while living near the Rocky Mountain Foothills, where, at 24, I worked as a caregiver, peeling Pinky’s clothes off at night and gently lowering her fragile body into the lukewarm bath. Pinky suffered from a serious case of Alzheimer’s. In the 1960s, she was a radical activist but slowly disease had crippled her body, cancer had taken one breast, and the dementia her memories and speech. She could still walk, but barely, and slowly. I often told her my dream of being with you, Los Angeles. This would be nice, I imagined her saying while I lifted her arms and scrubbed, You two would make a nice nice couple together.
Oh, Los Angeles, I wanted so desperately for us to be together — for you to help me grow up and be an adult, save me from my minimum wage job, the back-breaking work, and help pay off my student loans. That’s not too much pressure, right? I mean, Los Angeles, you’re like a millionaire. You could afford it.
So, I waved goodbye to Pinky and drove across Colorado, Utah, and Nevada to be with you in September of 2004. Los Angeles, I did it. I took hold of this dream to be with you and eventually found work as a transcriber.
Monday through Friday, at 9 a.m., I passed a security guard, took the elevator five floors up, and climbed into my own little cubicle at a television production company, where I watched raw video footage of reality shows and typed the discussion word-for-word into a computer document.
This one particular show I transcribed was about a hairdresser who was rich. He lived in a van at one point, but now had a plastic looking wife, spooky eyebrows, and lots of salons. I watched his interview again and again and again, diligently pausing the video every three minutes to slowly type out each word that he said. Often, I would miss a few and have to rewind the tape over and over again to catch it. I did this all day, until 6 p.m.
The repetition of his story was excruciating. His tone was promotional. His answers self-aggrandizing. The more I typed, rewound, listened, and typed, the more a certain injustice or indecency weighed heavy on me. He was a salesman hocking his American dream and I was stuck here in a cubicle helping to package it.
On top of all that, It was difficult to rectify that this guy’s story of triumph was worth more than a full 8-hour day of taking care of a actual dying person like Pinky, but this is what the comparative salary suggested.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t get Pinky out of my mind. How she had lost her voice. How her story was buried in an administrative folder three rooms over from her bed. How probably only a handful of people would ever read it. How Pinky’s daughter visited every morning before work — rain or shine, like clockwork. How the repetition of these visits cosmically somehow willed Pinky’s body to wait by the window in anticipation at 7 a.m. each day. How Pinky’s body knew love was coming, even if her memory did not. How like Pinky, all our bodies bury or record feelings, how these feelings are stories, much better than the ones we tell ourselves or others, attempting to seem important.
Los Angeles, I was so lost. Nothing made sense and I resented it all.
At night, my mind wandered down the street and over to the Capitol Records Building – its gutted carcass then, whistling only winds of dead ambition.
It seemed sadly reflective of me or my own state of mind.
Los Angeles, I just wanted to be an adult in your city, but without all the injustice or, if injustice was there, I wanted it to be a warm bed you got to sleep in while your mom cooked dinner and your dad mowed the lawn.
Los Angeles, I tried to break up with you. I did. I slammed my bedroom door and listened to records on repeat. I threw Led Zeppelin on the turntable and just danced because dancing felt good. The music felt nice amplified through the needle. I rifled through the classics. I remembered The Doors. I dug around for Janis Joplin. But, I always landed back on The Beach Boys and their infamous album Pet Sounds — the one that changed their legacy forever.
Brian Wilson’s sun in 1966 was not about chasing girls in bikinis and partying by the beach – his vision of romance had deepened. With Pet Sounds, he let go of the old dream, to make room for the new, more complex one.
This new dream showed another side of you, Los Angeles — one where the city’s sun was a blanket of song that could swaddle your sadness, revel in the vulnerability of being broken, yet optimistic despite all odds.
I didn’t want to be sixteen when I listened to Pet Sounds. I wanted to be here, in my twenty-something bedroom, a few blocks away from the decaying Capitol Records building, confused about my career, life, and being an adult.
Oh, Los Angeles, like Brian Wilson, I wanted our true romance to begin.
Don’t you remember? We kissed intimately about this in the night while the music played — You showed me how palm trees need to be shaved by big machines that drive along the street. They are not naturally that slender. They are sometimes dry and dying. Their palms fall on cars when it storms. They, however, are also the most beautiful when it storms. You showed me how Spanish architecture lofts on stilts along hillsides. How we build homes on fault lines. How we sit on the precipice. How we get fired. How we quit. How we drink in breezy dresses by the fire escape. How we change our minds. How we wait. How we stare at our phones because meeting people is hard. How we don’t always have words for one another. How we always have bedrooms. How Jane Mansfield used to live there. How bars spill out onto sidewalks. How we gather and watch her movies in the cemetery. How we celebrate the dead. How we once grew lilies taller than ourselves in Echo Park. How, now, they are gone. How they will likely be back, and how, like the Capitol Records building, like our stories, like our blossoming careers, all we need to do is stop projecting, love the city for what it is, and like Pinky or Brian Wilson, listen to the story in our bodies, because Los Angeles feels good, or it can feel good, if we are honest with ourselves and willing to listen.
Los Angeles, people travel around in you for many different reasons, but most people that truly love you stay for this one: we are pretending to be adults and we are all adults but we don’t have to feel like that here. We can get lost here and just be who we are. We can die here along with our dreams and still live a good life — live a good story whether we share it or not.
Los Angeles, here, we can lose the dream, or the dream can fail us, but we are still so lucky to have this failure because it allows us to know the weight of dreaming, how dreams never really come true, not the way that they should, because the air is filled with moisture, with water, and sometimes the reality is we sink.
Because Los Angeles, you are the most beautiful when it rains.
Stacy Elaine Dacheux
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