When I was in high school in the early 2000s, I knew that I couldn’t stay in my small, Northern California hometown forever. It didn’t offer a lot of economic opportunity, it wasn’t very diverse or cosmopolitan and I liked drugs, but not enough to stick around for them. At the time, there were only a few cities I could say I knew well– San Francisco, Chicago, Paris and Los Angeles.
San Francisco reminded me of an overgrown bathhouse with good public transportation. And it felt too close to home. Chicago was a beautiful city, a huge city, but I couldn’t entertain living somewhere so far from an ocean. And by that, I mean I fucking hate snow. Paris was a city I’d been to a few times and I loved it, but my sense of adventure was directly correlated to the amount of effort I’d have to exert to go on it, and frankly, moving across an ocean with no express purpose would make for a romantic tale later in life, but was way more effort that I was prepared to make. (Plus, after years of trying, I was just starting to get laid in America and I wasn’t about to give that up.)
I’d been to Los Angeles a lot and if San Francisco was an overgrown bathhouse, Los Angeles was an overgrown bathhouse drain– scummy, disgusting and worst of all for someone who sweats a lot, hot. It’s not just that Los Angeles lacks a real city center; it’s that it’s smoggy and dirty. It’s that moving a mile can take 45 minutes in traffic. It’s that by pretty much every standard of livability that matters to me, Los Angeles is a giant failure. But because life has it out for me, I got into a good university in Los Angeles and so I loaded up my Jeep (nobody took the Prius seriously yet) and made the six hour drive south.
If New York is a gorgeous redhead and Paris is a beautiful brunette, Los Angeles is a toothless hooker. She’s ugly, wide, sun-bleached, rode hard and put away wet. Arriving in LA feels like a mistake on par with giving your number to an undesirable when you’re drunk, but texts are much easier to ignore than 500 square miles of concrete.
I stepped out of my car into the hazy megapolis and my eyes burned at the bright sun and the smog. I instantly considered dropping out of college.
Fortunately for my future, I was too lazy to follow through with the plan and instead accepted my fate and settled into LA.
Within a few months, I’d made some new friends. West Coast liberals have a fetish for different cultures and I’m especially into languages, so when my new friends spoke Farsi, Japanese, Vietnamese and other languages from cultures that produced fantastic food (but always terrible pop music), I was in heaven.
I expanded my culinary lexicon to include simmering tofu soup, stews of pomegranate and walnuts, brilliantly colored ice creams and other things that sound disgusting but that I eventually learned to love (toasted cassava flour, I’m looking at you). And of course, like any white kid with ethnic friends, I learned useful, worldly things, like saying “fuck your mother” in a dozen languages. My liberal parents were so proud that their offspring was embracing the world’s cultures (I left out the bit about the anti-feminist mother fucking) and they were shocked when I told them I hadn’t traveled more than two miles from my college campus yet.
One night, after gorging ourselves on cheap and fantastic sushi (which is as ubiquitous and integral to Los Angeles as bread is to Paris), one friend leaned across the table and with a fiendish look in her eye asked, “hey, I heard there’s a bar in West Hollywood that doesn’t card, wanna give it a shot?”
I hate bars, drinking and dancing (I know, I picked the wrong sexual orientation), but I hadn’t yet developed a resistance to peer pressure, so when the rest of the group excitedly agreed, I feigned enthusiasm and offered to drive. I said it was because I could fit more people in my car, but I was lying– it gave me an excuse not to drink.
So with more people in my car than seat belts, we drove to West Hollywood, parked and lined up to get into the bar.
Once we were inside, I froze. I’d been living in the realm of small town teenage sexuality where messing around in my backseat with someone I’d known since third grade and whom I found only marginally attractive was considered “getting lucky.” Here, there wasn’t a bad looking guy in the bar and a couple of them wanted to buy me drinks. I was excited, anxious and wanted to puke– a condition that my dad calls “being Jewish”– so I did what a spineless, curious kid in a big, new city does and accepted the offer. The drinks tasted more like juice concentrate than alcohol (so much for driving) and within 15 minutes, I was making out with my first stranger in public. It was an incredible rush, but it was short lived as I began to feel queazy after my third drink. With my friends behind me, I stumbled out of the bar less than an hour after entering and promptly vomited in the street.
My friends rubbed my back as said sweet things like, “That’s okay, sweetie, we’ll drive you home.”
When I stood up, reeking of booze and vomit, but inexplicably still feeling like hot shit, I lifted my shirt like a drunk frat girl and laughed along with my cheering idiot friends.
The next morning, I woke up with a throbbing headache, but despite feeling like shit, I knew instantly that I had fallen in love for the first time. She was a big, fat, toothless hooker and her name was Los Angeles.
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