City of Broken Dreams

wonder

I volunteer at the local gay center occasionally. It’s located in the heart of Hollywood—on Santa Monica Boulevard, just off of Highland. If you go a bit further north on Highland, you’ll hit Hollywood Boulevard next to the Kodak Theater where they used to hold the Academy Awards.

I don’t live too far away, geographically, but as with everything in L.A. it’s cultural disparity that separates us, not distance. Driving up from my nondescript, low-key neighborhood of West L.A. adjacent to Beverlywood, I’m essentially wading into the gritty, smoggy, unfamiliar waters of Hollywood when I venture there. More discerning people would have ardent reservations even going there, barring an absolute emergency or valid necessity. Geographic prejudice is just one of the many charming traits of Angelenos you’ll discover here. I’m certain many of them take gleeful pride in it, much as they would a fine set of hair or an official job title.

One Monday morning, I gamely made the commute to do some filing for an upcoming event at the Gay Center. It was pleasant—getting out of my routine to help out with a good cause, while brushing shoulders with people I otherwise would never encounter on my own. The free pizza and cookies were just a bonus.

Halfway into my shift, I had to move my car to avoid parking regulations. Walking amidst the nearby adjacent residential neighborhood, I got into my vehicle and circled around onto Highland Avenue and parked, then trekked back to the Center. This unremarkable act evoked volumes to the intensity of this city and its continuing unfamiliarity to me.

Within such close proximity to the Gay Center, several of its constituents were milling about in surplus: an African American transgender woman strutted down Highland Avenue, bemoaning the heat under her breath. A pair of young gay men, stylishly dressed, sauntered northward on the street. A lone gay man in his late thirties to early forties, glanced at me curiously as I reached the crosswalk.

The street glowed under the unseasonable heat for late October—all concrete, metal, and glass—cars and casually dressed denizens moving forward with purpose. Businesses held shelter like virtue.

Back at the Center, a middle-aged man and woman danced and frolicked to music from a boombox while a small, hairy dog looked onward at their side. Their diligence seemed to equate with rehearsing for an imminent performance in the future. They paid me no mind, and I didn’t with them.

It was at that moment that I tied everything together. I realized that I no longer possessed a sense of wonder that is synonymous with youth. Not too long ago, I would have been tickled with simple amusement at the sight of this quirky couple and their canine cohort. I would have mused over their arbitrary efforts and location—the myriad possibilities of their intentions and origins.

I would have felt joy at watching the nearby city streets emitting their own special music, new to my ears as a visitor. The pedestrians and storefronts would have told stories that I knew would continue on without my witness—the mystery of it all intriguing me.

I would’ve felt this like a child on a Saturday morning: plain reverence at the beauty of life and all it had to offer on one special day. Now? I’d woken up on a new day, and didn’t recognize what I saw in the mirror anymore. Or I did—I looked just like the hardened cynics who had scoffed at me whenever I expressed unmitigated wonder in this city.

I realized: there was no sense of wonder for me anymore, because there was nothing new for me to see in this city. I knew the end of each story now, or rather: I knew where I belonged in the context of each one. I knew what to expect. I’d been trying in vain to make a connection in this fractured city, to no avail. What did that tell me?

Without ambiguity, there is no need to be curious anymore. This is why people settle down and stop exploring. It isn’t necessarily a choice. It’s an acceptance of who you are and how you are received in this world. I was just holding out on it for much longer than most.

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No One is Adventurous in L.A.

No one Adventurous

I understand now why people hate trying new things.

When I moved to LA., I was my usual self: Let’s go out and meet new people and try new things!

Little did I know everyone was like that once—when they were three years old. Then they realized everything sucks, so you might as well stick to what you like.

Meeting new people is best if you’re under the age of twenty-four, or through a mutual friend (to vouch that you aren’t a complete loser), or when you’re under hypnosis. Any other scenario is as likely to produce a favorable outcome as winning the lottery in Antarctica.

In L.A., no one likes anything outside their neighborhood. If you suggest going to a bar or a club, say, two miles away, you’re immediately shot down with the terse L.A. response: “No, I don’t like that part of town.” And you’re immediately deemed an outcast, because you don’t speak their same lingo: Perpetual Letdown. People in L.A. love to be exclusive, and when I say people I’m talking about people. Not celebrities, not people who are aspiring to be celebrities. Normal, “average”-looking people who could wake up in Pittsburgh and look like they belong there.

L.A. is warm, but its people are not. It’s not like how they’re portrayed on TV or the movies: peppy, happy to be under the perpetual sun, or grateful to be within such close proximity to the grandeur of the ocean… If you arrive here with a smile, they’ll immediately know you’re not from here.

I love trying new things (yes, I’m adventurous, get over it!). But after a while, the law of diminishing returns starts to well, reveal diminishing returns. How many times are you gonna keep feeding that slot machine quarters without getting anything in return?

When people say “no” to anything outside their comfort zone, it’s not necessarily because they’re lame and you are awesome. Okay, sometimes they are giant dorks—the type who secretly hopes new friends and a dream job will literally just knock on their door and they will just sign the form to accept. There are bozos like that. But as I’ve learned through my many forays into the unknown, sometimes saying no to something new is really just a form of self-preservation. If you know you’re gonna hate the new thing, or more importantly: the new thing is gonna hate you (I’m looking at you, trendy bar that I won’t name in Hollywood that I went to—as it turns out—for no good reason at all, because I misread my boss’s directions). Sometimes you can suss up through past experience that “Hey, this really isn’t gonna be my scene or my flavor, or my drug”.

This is really hard for me to accept, much like the majority of people in the world who won’t accept a person who just doesn’t drink alcohol. It’s an affront to my innate wiring: For gawd’s sake, we’re put on this earth to EXPERIENCE!

Some people are, to put it bluntly, sensitive. They can’t abide showing up at a place where they’ll feel judged, ignored, or at worst—forced to make small talk. I guess I have thick skin, or to put it less flatteringly: I’m just blithe and willful. If I go somewhere new and I’m flatly rebuked, instead of crying big baby tears on the inside, a perverse part of my brain lights up: ‘Hey, I’m in a weird situation! I’m experiencing something someone who looks, acts, and thinks like me—shouldn’t be experiencing! Woooaaa!!!’ I’m an armchair-twice-removed-backseat-driver-faux Anthropologist in that regard. I revel in being unwarranted, observing foreign environments once in a while—as long as I can return to my comfy little world afterwards. I’m the guy who has to peak behind the curtain, even if I might get my nose snapped off by the vicious crocodile that’s behind there.

I’m not bragging. It comes with a price. I’m not insensitive. Thick-skinned and sensitive are not mutually exclusive. I’m sensitive enough to absorb all those negative reactions, but I’m still curious enough to do it again. And again. ‘Til eventually I show up at a grizzly bear wrestling contest, or a hipster bar in Los Feliz and—you can read the rest of it in my obituary.