I was driving down the 210 last week and had a terrifying experience of almost crashing into a small pink BMW while attempting to stuff a french fry into my in-n-out burger—I feel like this encapsulates my sentiment for Los Angeles since moving down after college. Los Angeles is like the coolest sorority in college that prefers to filter all their instagram pictures in chrome. It’s inhabitants are addicted to beauty and glamour and yet crippled by their insecurity to achieve such. But nevertheless, the region and its inhabitants are gorgeous and true to its postcard advertisements.
The city, both vast and insular, sits within a valley, and descending upon LAX is like breaking into the third dimension. The aircraft penetrates an orange mist of pollution, which mildly reminds me of how Dante describes entering the eighth circle of hell in Inferno.
“It just operates with a different currency,” comforted a friend as I reflected upon my Children of the Corn experience upon arrival. Wealth, glamour, fame even fitness were never attributes that I thought I needed to aspire to, yet seemed to be the defining factors of value in the city. I could not parcel out how much of that indifference stemmed from the values my very liberal college imparted. The disgust for materialism, rejection of vanity and respect for academia was all I had known in the last four years, and the culture shock was ironically shocking. The ‘currency’ with which Los Angeles operates seemed counterintuitive in it’s incomprehensible governance, like drinking alcohol-free beer.
I once made the mistake once of wearing a tie-dye frock I had purchased at a Tibetan store in Berkeley to The Warwick, a ethnically homogenous bar in Hollywood where every female attendant has managed to maximize their genetic capacity. The bouncer did not comment and no one said anything overtly inflammatory but the feeling of uncomfortable dislocation was there.
Women there oozed hygienic sex appeal, and the men had all arranged themselves somehow to have the exact same amount and length of facial hair. It was a moment in which objectively one knows (tentatively) that one is not an unkept behemoth, but the immediate contrast provided compelling evidence otherwise.
In Los Angeles, it is slightly more difficult to justify ego through education and occupation—not many people seem to care very much about where you went to school or what you do. Wealth was a different matter, and it seemed at first that the entire city was operating beyond its economic means. Everyone was wading in debt—their cars, their mortgages, even their Chanel bags. Caring about appearing wealthy without actually doing anything to get here is difficult to comprehend, but also the ethos of LA. Rationally, one can conclude that one cannot derive much self-worth by purchasing overpriced Yeezys, but the city subliminally expresses otherwise.
I don’t doubt the ostentatious behavior is strategic and purposeful, I just simply don’t understand it yet. And hey the pollution looks pretty sometimes at dusk. And at the very least, there is El Flamin on Vermont.