Written by Mark Scarola
For some, culture shock can be an ugly and brutal reality
Mark Scarola has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He fled Los Angeles shortly before I arrived there. This is his story.
"What folly," archaeologists muse as they survey the ruins
of ancient Pompeii, "to have built a city along the side of a highly
active volcano!" Tracing the edges of urns and caskets with their fingers,
they note that the citizenry of Pompeii were highly skilled craftsmen, but
lacked any semblance of common sense. I wonder what archaeologists will
say, centuries from now, when they inspect the ruins of Pompeii’s spoiled
little brother, Los Angeles. Will they sort through piles of stucco and
asphalt and cry, "These are the remaining fragments of an over-burdened
metropolis?" Or will they simply acknowledge that twentieth-century
man had such little sense for an animal with such a voluminous brain.
Los Angeles is, much like Pompeii was, a city that simply should never have
existed. It is as if Angelenos are fighting a war against good judgement.
Death knocks on their door biannually in the form of mudslides and brushfires,
yet instead of abandoning death’s favorite vacation hideaway, they try to
ignore his golden tan. "It would be so . . . East Coast," they
say, "to be worried and tense about something over which we have no
control." This remark is often made from a cellular phone in the midst
of heavy traffic. Their attitude is often described as "laid back,"
but it does not take much of a psychologist to see this as a form of self-defense
using state-of-the-art passive-aggressive techniques. "Run for your
lives!" we scream at them, hoping that self-preservation will take
hold and they will scramble for safer ground. But they refuse to budge:
they struggle to appear not to be struggling — to show us how a stress-free
life is led. They are more concerned with earning a merit badge for "Most
Masturbatory Form of Disinterest" than they are with simply surviving.
They pooh-pooh the notion that they are only an earthquake away from being
permanently laid-back, noting coolly that it’s supposed to be 85 degrees
down in San Diego on Tuesday, with four-foot waves.
I must admit, being a New Yorker, that I do sometimes feel that I’m a bit
too judgmental, and perhaps I exaggerate when discussing the City of Angels,
but I feel I have a right to. I lived in Los Angeles for a six-month period
ending just before the Northridge Earthquake. In a town where one industry
monopolizes the money and the attention, I was an outsider. Interesting
social conversations (those that did not involve Hollywood film) were rare,
as I had no desire to discuss the film industry. I soon grew tired of listening
to stories about people I didn’t know and things I’d never see (much less
care about). And, as you might already have guessed, everyone was too busy
relaxing to have taken notice of my perpetual boredom.
The "laid-back" nature of Angelenos leaves them, as we have witnessed
in recent years, in a state of chaos when havoc strikes. The hands-off approach
to improving race relations resulted in the 1992 riots, and the relaxed
police department exacerbated the already disastrous situation. It still
amazes me that there are people sleeping outdoors after this year’s earthquake.
"Hmmm," says Mayor Riordan, "perhaps we ought to build a
few shelters, seeing as we live in such an earthquake-prone region of the
United States." "Your honor," replies one of his many aides,
"then we might seem concerned about our own welfare." "Good
point," says the big white guy, "forget I ever mentioned it."
I left Los Angeles knowing that I was heading back to New York, the drug-infested,
foul-smelling, crime-ridden center of my universe. I know that I’m placing
my life on the line every time I take a stroll after midnight. At least
I can take a stroll after midnight.
Angelenos, by the way, take to walking like cats to the backstroke. Angelenos
have never heard of public transportation, either. (Note to Angelenos —
"public transportation" is when the government supplies you with
an inexpensive and moderately efficient means of moving around urban and
suburban areas. I don’t expect you to know this now, but you may be tested
on it later.) When my car decided it needed a few days in the shop after
the cross-country trek to L.A., I was rendered absolutely immobile. As my
car racked up additional wear and tear, I found that if I stayed in L.A.,
and my car passed into the next world, I’d have no need to work, for I wouldn’t
be able to get there anyway. Besides, I’d certainly be helping to decrease
the density of the smog, even if I had to starve to do it.
It seemed to me that the only days I enjoyed being outdoors in L.A. were
the days after it had rained. The air seemed somewhat cleaner, and certainly
less arid. Of course, it only rained twice while I was in L.A. (one of those
days was the day I left), so perhaps my opinion isn’t truly an informed
one. I like having precipitation, and there are only two kinds in L.A.:
1) rain and 2) brushfire residue. My experience allows me to tell you that
ashes and soot fall more commonly than rain, so if you are asthmatic, consider
yourself warned. Before I finish with my tirade against dry, sunny, 75-degree
weather, I’d like to let you know that as I write this, I’m suffering from
the flu brought on by the 24 inches of snow N.Y.C. has received during the
past week. I’d still rather be here than in Los Angeles.
Almost as annoying as the climate of L.A. was the environment. Mainly, I
would like to address the fact that L.A. has approximately twelve palm trees
per square foot. This would not be notable except for the fact that palm
trees aren’t even indigenous to California, and quite simply, they’re ugly.
In essence, the city is overcrowded with imported, ugly trees. They line
the streets, the hillsides, the patios, the beaches, and the indoor malls.
They’re all over the place, and they’re hideously unattractive. (Have I
mentioned how ugly they are?)
Above all, L.A. lacks any sense of history. Being so concerned with setting
trends, it has forgotten its own past accomplishments. I remember the day
I stepped out of the Subaru dealership where my car was being operated on.
At my feet was a plaque that read, "This site was once the home of
Hal Roach Studios." I’m willing to bet they don’t even remember who
Hal Roach was.
I think I ought to now spend a few seconds extolling the one virtue of L.A.
Just outside of La Brea on Fairfax is L.A.’s one beacon of hope — The Silent
Movie Theatre. The only silent movie theatre still in existence, it contains
all of the magic that L.A. has squandered. A live organist improvises to
the films of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, et al., while the rest of L.A.
goes to pot.