“Even if someone makes something terrible—like the music the Insane Clown Posse makes—at least they’re doing something that speaks to them. And they kept going even though people told them it was terrible. And they found their audience, and now they built a community around their work. Look, you couldn’t pay me to listen to their music, but I still feel like I have more in common with the Insane Clown Posse than I do with someone who just sits on the sidelines and shits on other people’s work and who never puts themselves on the line.”—Tom Scharpling in Mike Sacks’s Poking a Dead Frog (via nickdouglas)
I like that in Los Angeles the phrase “magic hour” is a commonly used expression of time. Not just by people in showbiz. It’s just a generally expressed idea, about when the sun is setting, and the sky, light bouncing off the Pacific, is a starchy pink and a lonely ochre, a sad, searching orange, like the sky itself is wistful about the end of the day. It really is magic! I heard this phrase a few times in the past week, and it gave the city a specialness, as if some knowing, unseen cameras were pointed at us the whole time — this, in the land of movies, another movie.
I know a lot of people who have moved to L.A., and people who have always lived there, whom I found through various strands of the Internet. And every time I visit, the question pops up, “When are you going to move out here?” In the past, I’ve always responded with a chuckle and a false “I wish!” Because so much of that city, spread out thin and brown and dismal as a dry floodplain, is so unappealing to me. And because the driving scared me, all that it implied about big distances and fast car rides.
But I did some driving, enough driving, this time out, and saw friends with whom I’m closer now, and miss more because of it, and the fuzzy picture of an imagined me living in Los Angeles, started to look, well, a little less fuzzy. Maybe this could work! Maybe the driving—I even took the freeway!—isn’t quite as frightening as I’d imagined. Maybe the sleepier corners of a city that is troublingly unconcerned with limits can still be cozy and comforting, and even, somehow, exciting.
I think the big realization of the past week, though, was how tiring and silly the binary thinking is. That it’s either New York or L.A., that you are one person or the other. I’d like to imagine that I’m a more nuanced thinker than that, but I easily, in my first years in New York, fell prey to the thinking that liking one city over the other—in defiance of the other, really—said something defining about who I am. Of course that’s dumb, and cliched. Places are just places. We can never leave our apartment wherever that apartment is. We can drink and smoke and eat wherever, provided we have the money. Hell, we can be found dead and still in a Ukrainian field, having had no more daring an idea than going on vacation.
So I’m back in New York, and happy to be here. Because it’s where my stuff is, and where my bed is, and where I don’t feel that dull and uneasy discomfort of being someone’s houseguest. (That most homesick-inducing of feelings, the stress of a bed you have to be polite about sleeping in.) But I also felt, walking around Manhattan today, like maybe a little bit of me is reaching the end of the big New York chapter. I’m not going to Los Angeles. I certainly have no practical reason to go there right now. But it is nice, at least, to feel myself wriggling out of New York’s indifferent but insistent grasp. I can leave you, city. I have at least one idea where else I could go. And that feels quietly thrilling.
But then, of course, there is the simple reality of living. Standing in the Trader Joe’s line tonight, trying to look placid and sober after four beers in the sun, I had the sudden, watery feeling that I’d probably be much the same anywhere. The details would change, there would be gas and parking, or Euros and visas, and yet, always Sunday nights. All lonely and sorrowful, the sun setting no matter what. The cashiers at whatever store, wherever it is, waving me toward them with the same bored hands, me blinking at them slowly and saying, “I can just put that in my bag. I’m not going far.”