And so…LA

Howard and I were walking down 8th street when I saw the rat. It was as big as my shoe and scurrying under a parked car. “My wife wouldn’t live here because of that,” I said.

“In New York,” Howard, a Brit and one-time resident of the Big Apple, said, “rats are a way of life.”

I’d been in Los Angeles for a week. I’d eaten ramen in Little Tokyo, sat in on a pitch meeting, and slept in the hotel where the Black Dahlia was last seen alive. I’d drank at the Redwood, listened to a band that could’ve been featured in “Swingers,” and heard more Doors songs than seemed reasonable–even in L.A. It seemed I was in Las Vegas and staying at an L.A.-themed casino. The bartender pushed Jamesons shots on us, the seasoned writer told us our ideas were doomed to failure, hope fought off all reality and continued to spring eternal. It was what made a legion of waitresses believe they would be Hollywood actresses. I was in the middle of it and wondering how fast I could go home.

I like Los Angeles as much as I don’t want to. It’s a city full of people who suck on hope’s teet like it has an endless supply. They do it because there is no other choice. They either accept hope or they accept failure, and to do the latter is a ticket back to Greenville, SC or whatever city they abandoned in search of themselves. In the two weeks I’ve been away from my family, I don’t think there has been a time I’ve been so simultaneously hopeful and depressed as I have been since I set foot in the City of Angels. I came on a work gig that is not open-ended. It has nearly nothing to do with I bandy about in my head as I go to sleep. In that time, however, I’ve been faced with no less than two life-altering propositions that I find so heady and untouchable that I almost can’t bear to leave without seeing them through,

Now it’s late in L.A. The bars have long closed and the people who went to places to be seen have been seen in whatever capacity that was necessary. It’s at this hour that I think about my wife, a purpose-driven and perfect woman who has done nothing less than spend the last two weeks living in relative misery while I earn our mortgage two time zones away. It’s this woman who has given up everything for which she worked for 15 years so our children would have a parent at home. It’s this woman who, knowing well how desperate and scared and I can be, sends me a late night message with four simple words: “I believe in you.” It’s not easy to see those words from someone I respect so deeply and not try to live up to that belief.

What is hard, however, is to balance that belief with the reality of this place. As much as I have enjoyed my time in Los Angeles, I can’t help but wonder if I haven’t just been treated to a temporary fantasy. A week ago, I asked a longtime denizen of the city why he would bother to stay here when it costs so much and returns so little. He told me, in essence, “If you want to be taken seriously, you have to live here.”

I’ve spent the last week trying to resolve that proposition in my head. There are people here who, by my standard, have made it, and yet, they are living in constant fear of losing their guild’s heath insurance. They have done more by my age than I hope to do in my lifetime, and yet they live under the burden of potentially losing everything. I have a hard time putting it all together in a way my head can grok.

What I don’t necessarily give away here in this humble space is what I really want to do with my life. There have been people here in L.A. with whom I’ve shared those aspirations. It’s been a terrifying experience and one I’ve only been able to endure with the help of a little whiskey. Now I’m about 36 hours from going back to a city that L.A. doesn’t recognize as part of the United States. When I get there, I will bury myself in a work project that will pay the bills but get me no closer to the stuff that keeps me awake at night. The disconnect is going to be jarring in a way that I find hard to anticipate.

And so…LA. I sit tonight at 3am and listen to the street noise on 5th. I’m in the hotel you likely know from the first slime-scene in “Ghostbusters.” The bar downstairs charges $45 for a round of four drinks. And outside, if you look close enough, you’ll see shoe-sized rat scurrying around and looking for his piece of cheese.

That’s my Los Angeles.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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13 Responses

  1. KenP says:

    You need a bow tie to yank loose…

    Its quarter to three,
    There’s no one in the place cept you and me
    So set em up joe
    I got a little story I think you oughtta know

    Were drinking my friend
    To the end of a brief episode
    So make it one for my baby
    And one more for the road

  2. Drizztdj says:

    As someone who has lived 34 of his (nearly) 36 years in the same place, I’d have no basis to offer advice.

    So instead, I offer good luck and hope that you and your family get to where you want to go.

  3. Bam-Bam says:

    FWIW, which is probably far too little, I also believe in you.

  4. Jen says:

    You asked someone why they live here when it costs so much and returns so little. If you were to ask me why I left St. Louis 12 years ago and moved to L.A. without a job or friends to live in an apartment that costs twice what I paid in STL, I could give you a very long answer. But the short one is that I’ve always been in love with L.A., and despite its flaws that I’ve discovered in the last dozen years, it is a vibrant, sprawling city that thrives between the ocean and the mountains. I enjoy the diversity here, the many cultures and cuisines and opportunities and ideas. It is a city of hope and dreams, though some people only see the despair and heartbreak. Everybody doesn’t love this city, but some of us couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

    I’m sorry your L.A. experience wasn’t what you hoped it would be.

  5. Shane says:

    What Jen said.

  6. Poker Shrink says:

    I lived there fifteen years, yet I do not recognize the city you describe. Perhaps we see with different eyes.

  7. Katkin says:

    As another who was once drawn by the siren song of LA, I too understand your dilemma. The fact is, the city can be a cruel mistress. She lures you with wine, women and song in one hand, and punches you in the junk with the other.

    LA is, in short, a love it or leave it kind of place. I wanted to love it when I moved there and, like many relationships, things just didn’t work out between us. That said, I’m happy to have the experience, but like an ex-girlfriend, the city remains a place I can visit occasionally, but won’t ever settle down with for the long haul.

  8. MiamiDon says:

    Follow your dreams. Follow your heart. Follow your passion.

  9. otis says:

    To the LA folk…don’t get me wrong. I fell for this place in a way I didn’t think I would. Completely unexpected, really. Regardless, to all, thanks for reading.

  10. Pauly says:

    There’s a reason why I call in Hollyweird.

    Like most native New Yorkers who adopted Los Angeles, I have a love/hate relationship with this town so much so that I have yet to switch my NY state license over to California…even though I’ve been living here after I barely escaped living in Las Vegas.

    Our buddy Trey said it the best: “I’m waiting for the time when I can finally say, this has all been wonderful, but now I’m on my way….but when I think it’s time to leave it all behind, I try to find a way, but there’s nothing I can say to make it stop…”

  11. Da Goddess says:

    I love your wife!

  12. T says:

    It’s this woman who, knowing well how desperate and scared and I can be, sends me a late night message with four simple words: “I believe in you.”

    You are the most blessed man in the entire world.

  1. December 31, 2010

    […] And so…LA–A late-night confession from la-la land […]