Sunshine Gothic

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We B.la’ers contemplated a Halloween series this year–some kind of spooky or scary L.A. collection of posts focusing on our favorite fright factor in the city or some bone chilling experience we’ve had here. Sad fact: many of us (such as myself) were too busy trying to stay afloat in our (very scary) millennial economy to have time to devote to the series, and a notable number of the remaining B.la’ers didn’t really have a scary experience in the city to relate (and no, encounters with fake boobs or bad fashion do not count; we’d already established that).

Me, one of the things I love the most about L.A. is how very dark and yet simultaneously cheerful it is. Honestly, it’s that very sensibility that convinced me to move here in the first place. A little more than nine years ago I was visiting L.A.. I’d interviewed for a job here but I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to live in Los Angeles. My impressions of the city were largely negative, gleaned mostly from a prejudiced east coast crowd who criticized the city for not enough book stores and metro stops and too too many motivational speakers and girls in fuck-me heels. Women in D.C. wear Reeboks on their way to work, okay? So I came out here for a week to make my own determination and came to the conclusion “Yes, and?” otherwise known as “You say ‘fuck-me heels’ like that’s a bad thing.”

Minnaert's Trashy Lingerie from Wikimedia Commons

The turning point came on the day that Andrea, my bff who came out here with me to visit, dubbed “the sex and death tour of L.A.” We went to the Fredericks of Hollywood Lingerie Museum [now closed, so sorry readers], the Museum of Death [recently reopened, you’ll be happy to hear], Trashy Lingerie on La Cienega, and Necromance on Melrose. These latter two stores we happened upon by accident, drawn in by the army of bunny eared teddy-clad mannequins in the window of the former and the desiccated animal carcasses, bird skeletons and foot binding shoes in the latter. Hurrah for fetishistic consumerism!

But the pièce de résistance of the tour was Skeletons in the Closet, the gift shop at the Coroner’s Office downtown. I had read about the store in Roadside America, but I didn’t really realize that the shop is actually *at* the Coroner’s Office, which is to say, you walk by a lobby of people waiting to identify remains on your way in to buy beach towels with chalk outlines on them and garment bags shaped like body bags.

Chuck "Caveman" Coker's picture used through a Creative Commons license

The shop itself is a bit ramshackle, occupying as it does, a left over office not so skillfully repurposed as the coroner’s emporium. The day we went, there were a handful of people. A couple of women seemingly on their break from their downtown jobs were doing a little gift shopping after lunch. There was an adorable teen-aged goth girl complete with a purple lined cape, swirly eyeliner and a dad who looked like he could be related to Tom Boswell. He had apparently given her a ride and was also funding the purchases. “Oh dad look,” she’d exclaim, “Souvenir toe tags! Can I get one dad?” “Sure honey,” he’d reply, “Go right ahead.” Coming from the east coast, I’d never actually seen a chipper goth kid before. She was all smiles. I was charmed. Even better, Teen Vampire had a doppelganger. A Hannah Montana type was there with her mother on an informational interview with the coroner’s investigator because that’s what Hannah wants to be when she grows up. “You never forget your first body,” the coroner’s investigator was saying. “I remember I had to identify the stomach contents: green beans and onions.” “Ew!” said Hannah, her mother and the Coroner in unison and all three wrinkled their noses.

It was without a doubt the most surreal and creepy vacation day I have ever had, beginning with the gallery of John Wayne Gacy clown paintings at the Museum of Death and ending with the purchase of souvenir insulated mugs that said “L.A. Coroner’s office. Stay cool!” on the side. I was in love. I moved here within the year.

I like to think of the zeitgeist here as “sunshine gothic.” Clearly, not everyone sees the city this way (or we’d have done that series for you), but from my perspective our happy decadence is one of our best qualities. This is the way the world ends–not with a bang but a party.

8 Replies to “Sunshine Gothic”

  1. That’s actually in my neck of the woods: in glorious Lincoln Heights! I used to work for a local mortuary and picked up many a corpse at the coroners, I once got to see the liquid remains of a dude hit by a semi. He just sloshed about in his plastic bag.
    Tip: don’t get hit by a semi.

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