Pure signal.

The Grid

I think of LA and OC together as my hometown, I have a pretty even distribution of memories over the whole area. When I used to go out driving to lose myself I would wander freely over the borders back and forth. I realize that I am a died in the wool Orange Countian — entitled, white, even somewhat conservative — but the streets and the land of both to me are equally home. I think the main difference in how OCers and LAers view the city proper, is that OCers see the hills, Mullhulond drive and even over to the valley, and out to Santa Monica and the north, and over to Long Beach — they see it all as a continuum. If you grew up in LA proper, getting into the hills is like a little vacation, but if you are from the OC, the hills are like a richer version of where you came from — there is a flow, you flow down into the streets from your hills, you bing along the street corners hitting the clubs and restaurants and building up points, and then spinning up Mullhulond drive, which feels like home. It has the same desert air, the same glittering lights (only grander) that you remember from Anaheim Hills. White people from Orange Country, who go to LA, think of LA as a place where other white people live. And all of that ethnic stuff that you hear about, that defines LA for the people who actually live in the middle of it, is stuff that happens in a city where your white friends live, kind of a background noise, like the Mexicans and Asians in Orange Country are a kind of background noise.

I am trying to create a memory — so it is possible that my myopia was more a function of my age than my race. Adult white people who continue to live in Orange County may have a more “correct” sense of it. Other children who grew up there may not be willing to describe themselves in such unsympathetic terms. But I recall distinctly that I would be hanging out with my white friends, I would get in a car (mine or theirs) and drive across a town with Spanish names, see black people on the streets, and Asians behind the wheel of economy cars zooming back and forth between their two jobs and night school, and when I got out the car on the other side (somewhere in LA) I would go to a house and there would be other white people. Then I moved there.

Since I moved there without thinking about it, I landed in a part of town that was almost entirely Mexican. Moving in is done via car, with the help of white friends, so it wasn’t until I went out for breakfast and walked around that I noticed that there were no other white people within 5 blocks. This scared me more in a classic horror movie way than any kind of racial consciousness way — I was in a place, all of the sudden, where I wasn’t sure if any of the signals I knew worked. Everyone was speaking Spanglish, the signs were a mix of English, Spanglish and Korean. It was just odd. I walked down to a taco stand and smiled at the first person I passed, they smiled back, and all the sudden I was actually living in LA. Maybe there is a whole lot more to racial relations than that in other peoples lives — everybody seemed cool to me.

There are tons of issues that are pseudo-racial. For instance, the sense of entitlement that I feel looking at LA — I don’t see it in districts, because I feel (mind you this is a feeling not a thought) that I could move into any district I wanted and I would be just fine. I even have the incorrect feeling that I could move into Bell Air or the Hollywood Hills if I really wanted to. I say this is a feeling not a thought because I don’t have the rent, and I can’t think of anything I’d be likely to get hired for, really, in the next 10 years that would give me the rent. But the feeling that I could do it is there, and I have had it explained to me that is entitlement — and I feel that way because I’m white. I would love for everyone to feel that though — it would be my choice to inflict that delusion on everyone in the world, because if you can’t see the barriers, then sometimes you just end up walking through them. Which is why I call it a pseudo-racial issue, because even through more white people in America might feel that way than black people, and even though it isn’t technically true, I think that anyone regardless of race would do well to adopt that idea. I realize that the idea comes out of a mythology which was specific to the Europeans that settled in America, and maybe even the Christian religion that backed them up, but once we got here, that idea was just around — just laying in the street. And there is nothing to stop a person from stuffing that idea in their head, it’s just an idea. An idea in the privacy of your head. And then your deciding to go wherever you want with it.

And then there are pseudo racial issues like make up the humor of a lot of New York. A black woman told me that white people smell like wet dogs. A white woman told me that black people are too loud. Maybe I don’t wash my cloths as much as you, or we eat different, our families are different sizes or we have different pronunciations of words. And maybe, because we hang out with our families, and people like our families, all these differences stack up into some kind of cultural identity. And those things add up to something that some people associate with race, and other people swear race doesn’t exist and they call it culture. And some people say that it is all imaginary or should be and we should pretend that we all look, talk and smell the same. And who knows maybe if we pretend hard enough it will all the sudden be true. But I think getting to the place where the Italians can tell jokes about the Jews and the Irish can tell jokes about the Italians, but everybody is basically OK with it would be a better outcome. Like we are are on a bunch of different baseball teams and wearing different uniforms, and we sport our colors and memorize our statistics and we all feel like our team is number one, but it doesn’t really mean all that much, it just gives us all a chance to feel like we belong to something besides the city proper, which after all is so goddam big.


October 31, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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