Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I don't have any ex's in LA. (Do I?) But I have spent a lot of time there in my life. I have a weird relationship to it. I love it, but for hazy reasons. Hazy being an unfunny joke, as the mountain-hiding haze I used to inhale copious amounts of was a complex bouquet of acidity, tannins, and carbon monoxide. I remember telling my mom that my chest ached, but what could she do? It was the air we breathed. Better LA than Mexico City, I was told.

I lived in LA until I was in second grade, when we moved to a suburb of Kansas City. It was a great place to ride bikes, find crawdads, play baseball and soccer, and be deflated by some horrendous witch- teachers. And if you think I am exaggerating, I give you a day in the life of a heretofore ambitious self-learner in fourth grader:

  • Pat and Carol, the two poorest kids in my class, are taken to the front so that the teacher can call on different kids to point out dirty items of clothing. Pat, who only ever wore that matted, old parka, held back most tears, but Carol wept open mouthed. The teacher smiled like Voldemort at Equus.
  • Later that morning she slapped a kid in the mouth because he did not take his pen out of there fast enough. He ran to the nurse with a shiny new hole in his cheek. His parents made him apologize for disrespecting the teacher.
  • Having spent months in daily memorization, I was given the opportunity to win 50 special extra credit points by reciting the Gettysburg Address perfectly. Which I did. But after I was finished, she told me I was just trying to be a show off and she sent me back to my seat empty handed.
  • And, before we went home for the day, the teacher dragged up the reliable Pat and Carol for one last round of child abuse.

Ah.... memories. But this is about LA.

When we moved from KC, we drove Clark Wilhelm Griswold style. In truth, we made the drive in as close to the Family Truckster as I have ever seen. It was a pea green Plymouth Volaré with wood panels and vinyl seats and a suspension system that made you feel like you were on a waterbed. (Clearly not a good thing for a sleepy driver, eh Clark?) It was an epic hero's journey, complete with dog slobber, carsickness, breakdowns, family fights and even a fifty yard jump.

Fifty Yards.....

So, anyway, we wind up in Northern Cali in the foothills of the Sierras. A gorgeous place. A redneck place. A hippie place. A dusty, dry, wildfire place. Far from the big city and beaches. In fact, seven hours from the big city and beaches. Seven hours if you are my dad, driving a beat up Volaré down 99 with a family of five, from Calaveras County to LA. Five hours if you are me, rolling solo in my '85 VW Scirocco at seventeen. (Maybe even four.)

We got to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all of em, down in LA every six months or so. It was a washed car place. It was an M&M's and Coke place. It was a sneak beers out of the fridge and get faded in the garage place. As I became a teenager, I got to go hang out down there in Redondo Beach or Torrance for the summer. It transformed LA from brown air traffic fest, to beach paradise made up entirely of skateboarding down the strand with a beer buzz to the sight of brownish bikini'd bodies and waves. It was my own paradise. So much so, in fact, that when I was fifteen I ran away with my best buddy and we spent ten days in LA, living out of the car and selling hand made T Shirts at Venice next to the rastas. It was AWESOME. Unless, of course, you are one of my kids reading this. In which case, that was just a joke. I never ran away to LA. Didn't happen. Running away is unbelievably STUPID and DANGEROUS and you should NEVER EVER EVER EVER do it. (Ah, who am I kidding? My kids will never read this blog.)

But, had we run away to LA and driven down there in my buddy's little brown beater, we might have been stoked out of our minds with adrenaline, smoking cigarettes and dreaming of new futures. And we might have been jamming down the grapevine at dusk when the U2 song, Where the Streets Have No Name, comes on the radio just as we crest a dark hill and suddenly the entire galaxy of Los Angeles open up to us in lights. I want to run..... I want to hide......

I can still feel the goosebumps. I can still feel the potential of a fifteen and sixteen year old in a car with stolen beers, cans of chili, Ak-Mak crackers, kipper snacks, and enough money for two tanks of gas. And really, that is what LA has and always will be for me. Potential. A place I can run away to and hide in the endlessness of it.

It's been a while since I have driven the tail section of the grapevine into LA. In fact, the last time I drove out of LA was with my wifey trailing me in our Pathfinder while I drove the moving van from San Diego towards the muted grey state in which I now reside.

But I do still get the shimmers of potential whenever I fly in. And, even though I hate flying, due to my very rational and common sense fear, I still love coming into LA. And I will be coming again this summer for a SCBWI conference. Not coming home. No. That would ruin it. That would be the end of LA for me. I only come back for a small taste of potential and then I leave. Partially because I know how much living in LA sucks, and to preserve my remnant of paradise. But mostly because of the truths held in this quote from one of my fav books ever, The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

"When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain."

See you in LA.

P.S. For anyone who comes running to the defense of teachers, bababababa, CHILL. I am a teacher. I understand. I have stood in front of a room full of students and debated walking right out the front door forever. Kids often treat teachers horridly. But I did not. I was an obedient kid, wanting nothing more than to do what was right and please those in authority over me. Well, they burned that bridge... And if I, who was deeply entrenched in not only the culture of midwestern respect, but also in the fear of the bubbling heat of Hell's ever approaching fire, can be shocked into a full 180 degrees around, how easy is it to forever turn off kids who are already halfway there?

I try to remember that when I get burned out. These kids are always on the brink of something. Don't push them over. Don't push them over. Entice them back with respect and positive vibes. Don't push them over.