Monday, September 3, 2012

On running away to a strange city: Texting people until my battery runs out

I originally wrote this piece in February or March 2012 (I can't recall exactly). A lot has changed since then, but I still enjoy the sentiment.

A lot of people come to Los Angeles hoping to "make it." LA is a transitory city where it's rare to find someone who was actually born there (but I was).

In San Francisco, someone likened the city to an airport, where everyone is just waiting for their flights. And some people are late, and some people are sitting and reading magazines, and some people are stressed out and afraid of flying. But no one is staying. When I think about what I do in airports, I think about how I excitedly text people until my battery runs out.

San Francisco boomed during the Gold Rush in 1849, becoming one of the largest cities in the country practically overnight, and then it all burned down in 1906 after an earthquake blossomed fire started. In 1967 children with wide-eyes and hope-hearts unfurled in the park and they called it the Summer of Love (Mark Twain supposedly called it the "coldest winter" -- but he actually didn’t).

Composite then and now photos of the 1906 San Francisco
earthquake by Shawn Clover via Laughing Squid
Britney Spears is a certain pop hero of mine because we all bore witness to her darkest moment. I remember the night and the helicopter footage of them wheeling her into an ambulance on a stretcher -- it must have been a Thursday night because S and I were getting ready to go to a regular dance night at La Cita in downtown LA. Britney Spears came to Los Angeles from Louisiana, just a good 'ol southern girl with a Norma Jean whisper in her ear, and she made it -- goshdarnit she did -- and for so long I denied her appeal until one night I found myself pole dancing in a frat house to "Toxic."

I have never attacked a car with an umbrella, head shaved and eyes blazing, but I have totally lost my mind. Screaming crying laughter pacing in my bedroom, tearing out clumps of hair and calling suicide hot lines. Thankfully those lows were not captured on camera, immortalized in pop history, but one time I watched the Britney Spears documentary while I was on acid in San Francisco after walking through the hailing rain in the Castro, and I swear, she was talking directly to me. I could see it in her eyes, the same deep soul-haunting anguish that stirs me awake, the "Lucky" girl who has everything but still cry cry cries.

So I ran away to San Francisco, like the forty-niners, hoping to strike it big in a city huddled dewy under the fog. Or like the flower children, hoping to find some sort of peace for my soul, escape the striking concrete beat-heat of Los Angeles. Los Angeles -- the city I always characterized as my crazy Mexican girlfriend, slamming doors and throwing dishes at me. I ran away from her into the arms of my patchouli scented maiden with flowers in her hair, hoping that I could find some stillness, some stability, some quiet destiny. But San Francisco is a dazed and indolent lover, content to spend hours in the park, too far away to hear my voice as I fling it across the bridge. Once again -- I am lost.

A certain film producer I ended up in the strange employment of once told me to be careful about my reasons for moving after I told him I wanted to leave Los Angeles to get un-stuck. "You might get stuck somewhere else," he said, as I drove him down the Pacific Coast Highway into Santa Monica. Am I stuck? Am I like the forty-niners, the gold-seekers, who placed all their bets on a dog-led sled, and lost it all after panning panning panning the waters and turning up nothing?

Maybe I could fall in love with any city. There are so many out there. They all have their breathtaking moments: like the way my heart jumps into my throat when I crest a very steep hill and all of the bay rolls out before me, igniting midday fire on the water; or like the way I was struck with childlike wonder-eyes whenever I'd turn down the 110 through downtown LA, all a-glitter, all a-glow. What city shall it be next? Portland? New York? Madrid? Austin? I’d love to be anywhere but here, right now.

Maybe a child of immigrants never has a home -- especially if her parents have never or can never visit their birth places -- then maybe she is a ghost, wandering the earth for a place to finally rest, only the house of her ancestors is not in this country, and she can’t put her head down among strangers even though she’ll take a strange man home tonight. Yeah, "home."

Yours Truly in San Francisco some years ago.
These days I find myself thinking of the past a lot. I have spent a lot of my time trying to forget the past. That’s probably why I've never learned. That's probably why I’ve found myself in the same place, just a different city, just another moment in the terminal, waiting for my flight, reading some celebrity rag, and dreaming of being somewhere else.