On the Vanguard of the Apocalypse

bcnunnery's Los Angeles photo courtesy of stock.xchng
bcnunnery's Los Angeles photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Last week, a friend of mine from New York was visiting LA for work, and perhaps inevitably our dinner conversation turned to that old saw: LA vs. NY. Know that we weren’t trying to establish the superiority or dominance of one megalopolis over the other, just come to some sense of understanding. Annette, my New Yorker friend, had just come from a yoga class and was a bit culture-shocked–first there was the fact that the entire class sat on the floor in their fine yoga togs texting on their mobile devices while waiting for the instructor. Then there was the intensity of the class, the fervor with which the students yoga-ed themselves into bendy, sweaty shapes, coupled with the high anorexia quotient. “The women in the dressing room,” Annette remarked, “Had those hollows in their pelvises that you see on malnourished people and POWs.”

“Welcome to my town,” I said. “The key to loving LA,” I said, “Is to not want it to be New York or San Francisco or Paris.”

Sure, I have lots of friends and fellow-bloggers who are avid cyclists and vegans and activists, who live simply so that others may simply live, who drive Prii, make their own clothes, and compost their melon rinds.

That said, I believe the heart of LA is cold, and the key to living here happily is to give up on the whole notion of a future, sustainable or not. Never mind Tierra del Fuego, this is the party at the end of the world. LA is truly the most decadent US city I know. We have Vegas beat by a long yard because we pretend to be something more than an amusement park.

Lean into the apocalypse, LA urges us. Buy uncomfortable shoes made from rare creatures! Pierce what you can pierce and tattoo the rest! Eat foie gras! Never mind the drought, transform your little plot of desert into a thirsty rainforest! Buy a Hummer! Eat hot dogs! Lots of them!

LA is meant for people who have stopped trying to believe that things can be different and that we can be saved.

“To fill the hour, — that is happiness; to fill the hour, and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.” So says Emerson (in a darker moment).

20 thoughts on “On the Vanguard of the Apocalypse”

  1. The image of a preciously dressed, boney-assed yoga class sitting, waiting and doing what amounts to passing electronic notes is priceless– a perpetual high school mentality.

    I think NYC has become a lot more like LA, at least to my observation. Its surface sparkles but underneath it’s dead and soul-less. Oddly, I think that’s what I like about it. Both cities have become giant, living and breathing Warhol portraits.

  2. Oh now let’s not be silly. Both NYC and LA are full of wonderful real people and creative beauty. Both also have nonsense, superficial levels of art and entertainment, but that can be expected from a large population. 20/80 rule might work here. 80% strive to make it all better, work hard to improve their lives, families, communities and for artists, their art. 20% go for the schlock.

    I think we should give deep credit to the 80% who make LA and NYC wonderful cities.

  3. I don’t get why people who feel this way about LA live here. I’d have moved long ago if this was my experience of the city. I find warm communities who work hard to improve schools, encourage drought resistant gardening, and improve our neighborhoods at the grass root level. Maybe you should hang out it Mar Vista with me for awhile.

  4. lady: hear, hear. I am sick and tired of people laughing into their fists as they denigrate my city. Co on, go back to Fargo and LaPorte and the horrid, awful Regina. Go and try to do yoga and eat macrobiotic there- the natives will sh#t in your hat.
    You made a deal with this city on the day that you moved here. If you aren’t having fun, if you aren’t getting all the success that you think you warrant, maybe you should ask yourself if you’re keeping up your side of the bargain.

    and I love this:
    ““To fill the hour, – that is happiness; to fill the hour, and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”

    Try this:
    “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
    – Seneca

    “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
    -Anton Chekov

    Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.
    That way, when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them,
    and you have their shoes.”
    -Frieda Norris

  5. I think the point Travis is making is that she loves LA. She’s not complaining.

    I love LA, I was born in LA, but I have no illusions. There’s a lot of shallow people here, the triumph of the illusory, much sound and fury. There’s lots that is rich and fecund and earnest as well, but you can’t ignore the giant sucking sound created by the nasty race for wealth, status, etc.

    I still love this city, but let’s not be Pollyannas.

  6. Maybe it’s because I live in one of the West Side beach towns, not technically in Los Angeles, but I could not relate to the last three paragraphs of your post. From my local vantage point, attempts to live in more harmony with, or even save, our planet are everywhere. Businesses like Epoxy Green sell sustainable materials for your home. Groups like Green Business Networking are full of entrepreneurs selling products and services that help us become greener. I have covered trade shows full of sustainable products, like Santa Monica’s Alternative Materials and Design Expo, here on this blog. The City of Santa Monica has green building and solar power programs. A number of front yards have visibly gone “desert natural,” with no grass and indigenous plants that require very little water. Plenty of people try to minimize their use of gasoline, whether by driving Priuses, scooters, cruiser bikes, skateboards, or their own two feet. Just today, I spoke to a neighbor who traded in her Hummer for a Scion, and is overjoyed at pocketing the fuel savings.

    Maybe I’m too much of a newbie to be jaded, but in my purview west of the 405, I find these and other examples of apocalypse fighting to be pleasantly surprising, hopeful, and often thrilling.

  7. Oh my. For the record: I never made a deal with LA that I would love it for the same reasons you do.

    Please don’t make me go to Fargo. I’ve never been there, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. I’m not certain they even let leftist Jews in.

    Chal gets me. Thank you Chal, and of course, as always, the lovely LuMi. It is a Warhol phenomenon. Warhol said: “I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.”

    He also said, “Everything is good.”

    I’m not jaded I’m elated. In dark, existential kind of way. ;-)

  8. let me restate:
    L.A. is not perfect. However, it catches a lot, a LOT of crap for being what it is. Some guy escapes the wife-snagging, property-line-moving, just-smoke-pot-on-weekends life in, say, Fargo, comes to L.A. and can’t stop complaining about the smog and flat abs and jarring colors. It’s like Canadians complaining that the ketchup is too spicy.
    I am what I am: loud, affectionate and verbose. L.A. is what it is. The sign at the airport arrival gate should say, in three foot tall letters:



    oh, for the record: born here.

  9. Amen Flower. Here we do agree.

    In fact, there’s a good post in that: what should the sign at the airport arrival gate say? Or what should LA’s motto be?

  10. I love this post. And for the record, I compost my fruit and veggie peels (sometimes) and use the subway (sometimes) AND I will be eating hot dogs. Lots of them.

  11. Time to give up and assimilate. I’m taking a hacksaw to my bike, buying a Hummer and a pocket dog and a carton of cigarettes. Then I’m gonna go graffiti my mom’s house, build a meth lab, shit where I sleep and let the roof burn. Burn, motherfucker. Burn.

    And yes: There Will Be hotdogs.

  12. You almost had me with the Chandleresque reference to LA’s chilly heart. I thought you’d go somewhere with it that wasn’t typical of LA critiques.

    Whether or not I agree with any of it, I think it’s daring writing and I have a lot of respect for that.

  13. There is a reason it’s called “Hot Dog Death March.” I started with a slightly less dark title for it: “Dog Day Afternoon” and after the 2nd Classic Eats with all the hard-core LA-ers around, it was renamed.

    I LOVE the idea of the true LA motto or welcome sign.

    And for the official record, I would love to see what Ranger would make of a pocket dog, Will.

    Oh dear, I’m rambling.

  14. Whoa whoa whoa, hold on there Travis. LA is a HUGE place, and of course everyone is going to see places from their own perspective, but I’m afraid that yours is a little lacking.
    The Apocalyptic Los Angeles you’re describing is definitely not the LA I know. Mainly, this is due to my relatively low socioeconomic background and the experiences that come with that, so yoga classes, carcass shoes and brutally acquired liver are not really part of my LA experience…nor is it part of the experience of many Angelenos I know.
    I also don’t think you should classify bicycle-riding, vegan-eating, homemade clothes-wearing peeps as the exception to the cold-hearted Los Angeles. Sorry, but those aren’t the only ones who have a little heart and conscience in this here city.
    Yeah, you’re right, LA can get pretty decadent and progressively frustrating. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the reality is that everyone has given “up on the whole notion of a future.”
    Nah man, there are tons of nonprofits, cultural centers, protest rallies and community invested businesses here. I mean if you look around and stop exotifiying the grittines of LA and accepting its misery, you’ll see there’s so much life in this city yet. It’s not an end of the road stop for the hopeless who have nowhere else to turn. There’s people like that here, no doubt, and there are those others you’ve mentioned too: the superficially arrogant. But there are so many more people in this city, in MY town, that I feel you have left out of your analysis there.
    Not everyone in LA is as concerned with image as you seem to think they are. There are rich Angelenos and there are poor Angelenos.
    I don’t wanna live in a place where people “have stopped trying to believe that things can be different.”
    And guess what? I don’t.

    It’s one thing to love the decadence of this place, there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t simplify LA as ONLY a dark pit without any hope. There’s indescribable beauty here too.

  15. For what it’s worth, I actually work for a nonprofit and in fact, have pretty much dedicated the lion’s share of my life to helping others. I talk a big talk but in reality I do think hope is at the very least a necessary fiction.

    But…that’s not to say I don’t mean everything I wrote. I believe LA, more than almost anywhere else, can be whatever city you want it to be.

    Heck, I didn’t even own a car until I was 35.

    Don’t tell anyone.

  16. Something I just figured out: A chopped-up bike frame’s tubing makes great pipe bomb casings.

    And I’m >this close< to walking the gawdblessed Hot Dog Death Drivearoundtrytofindparking.

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