I Love L.A.

My friend Nina invited me to come with her to her friend Seema’s fancy condo downtown where we could sit by the pool or soak in the jacuzzi. I was gonna write my first Los Angeles-based post of the second decade of the 21st century from there. But it turned out we couldn’t get a WiFi signal up on the roof. So I’m doing it from my apartment. But Nina took a photo of me pretending to write a blog post in my swimming trunks and brown socks. So you can pretend I’m writing from there.

Me and Meow-Meow the cat are sitting on the balcony. We’re five stories up and I’m hoping Meow-Meow’s self preservation instincts prevent her from sticking any more than her head through the guard rail bars. Crum is now living with my former upstairs neighbor Dave who has fallen madly in love with him. I don’t think I can ever get Crum back now. But I know that he and Dave will be happy together and Crum can still go over and bother Noodles and the other kitties in the building.

This will be my second attempt at living in Los Angeles. The first did not turn out well. But then again, that time I did not move here by choice. Tsuburaya Productions wanted to start a Los Angeles office and they wanted me to be in charge of that office. So they shipped me out to America away from my beloved Tokyo, where I had intended to live out my days hunting for old monster toys at Nakano Broadway. Oh and doing zazen and being all spiritual and stuff.

That time I wasn’t really happy about moving to Los Angeles and then after I got there all sorts of unpleasant things began happening (which you can read about in my book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate). So I was glad to get out of there. I first tried living in the Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. But that wasn’t for me. So I left my stuff in the storage space I had rented there when I intended to move there and was homeless for about a year. I wasn’t really homeless in the sense that I was living on the streets. But I did not have my own apartment for most of that year. I lived briefly in Brooklyn. But the really cheap place I found there did not last and I couldn’t afford real New York rents. So I ended up back in Akron for about 15 months.

Akron’s a funny place. A lot of amazing stuff comes out of Akron; Devo, The Black Keys, Chrissy Hynde, LeBron James… But most of that amazing stuff doesn’t stay in Akron. Here’s my pet theory on why that is. Akron is a boring and normal place. Or I should say, it tries very hard to be boring and normal. It’s not boring because of its location, which is actually a very beautiful part of the country. It’s boring because the vast majority of people who live there seem to crave boredom and normality.

Now if you ask me, there really is no such thing as boredom and normality. Boredom and normality are illusions. Nothing is boring and nothing is normal. But lots of people can’t cope with life unless they create the illusions of normality and boredom. They work very hard to establish these things. And so there are shopping malls and chain stores and restaurants that belong to corporations and TV sitcoms. Akron loves all of these things. The people there will support them.

Now some people in Akron realize that boredom and normality are illusions. But it’s hard to do that in a place where people support these illusions so strongly. So they have to fight a lot. It’s like a 24/7 battle. And this battle makes some of them very tough and very creative. But it also makes them tired. And when those people find out that there are places in the world where people crave the illusions of boredom and normality a little less than they do in Akron, those people move away and live there. Because in spite of the fact that it’s usually a lot more expensive to live in those places, it’s also a lot easier.

This does not mean that everyone who stays in Akron is, in Devo terms, a “spud boy.” Those who are not spuds, must find their own ways of coping with the largely spud-like population. Some do it very well. To me, those people seem really strong and dedicated. I admire them for it.

I escaped Akron first in the mid-80s when I moved to Chicago and then again in the early 90s when I moved to Tokyo after a brief stay back in Akron. So I’m already too far removed to go back permanently, I think. I have no family there, although I do have a lot of very good friends.

This is not to say that LA is any kind of paradise. I am now living with two roommates in an apartment about the size of the one I had in Akron on my own. And it’s costing me twice as much. Yesterday I got a parking ticket that cost $60 (the meter expired about seven minutes before we got back to it). There is no reason any ticket for an expired meter should ever cost $60. To me that’s reason enough right there to justify storming City Hall. But people here put up with that kind of shit. They are stupid for doing so. The ones who aren’t stupid are just too rich to care. People who are too rich to care about nonsense like this are a big part of why it’s hard to live in this city.

HELPFUL HINT: When in LA do not ever park at a parking meter. People in LA hate to walk. There is almost always free parking withing a quarter mile of the meters, sometimes within a block. Look for it. Also, read the signs very carefully. Many of them are deliberately confusing. They are hoping you will misunderstand their ambiguous wording and park in the wrong place. If you don’t understand the signs, park somewhere else.

And traffic here is ridiculous. And people who appear to be friendly usually have an agenda. Case in point: The building I’m now living in is one of these new-fangled LA apartments where they have a team of shiny happy people downstairs at the office ready to assist you at any moment. My landlords in Akron lived 45 minutes away and would answer your calls when they got around to them. My fridge leaked the entire time I lived there. On the other hand, when I was late with rent they would call me and ask me what was up, and I knew from others who lived there that sometimes arrangements could be made to pay late. They were a nice couple with a child who had Down’s Syndrome. I’m sure that if I was ever late with rent at this place those shiny happy people downstairs would turn into Terminator style robots and throw all my stuff including Meow-Meow over the balcony. And I will never know who really owns this building. Probably evil businessmen from some other county. You cannot trust people who pretend to be friendly here because everybody pretends to be friendly. Oh and there are earthquakes too.

Nevertheless, when I lived in Brooklyn I came to the shocking realization that I liked Los Angeles better than New York. I pictured myself more as a Woody Allen type who got along better in the cold and damp of NYC. But I’m not that type. I like the sunshine and the ocean. I like Amoeba Records and palm trees. I like seeing someone who looks like Cameron Diaz driving a convertible down Venice Boulevard and realizing it probably is Cameron Diaz. I like the pretentious hipsters in Silver Lake. They’re hilarious. This whole place is like Highland Square on steroids. Plus I lived in Tokyo where there are even more earthquakes than in Southern California.

Will my second time in LA be better than the first?

We shall see.

 

26 Responses

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  1. Khru
    Khru July 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm | |

    Brad, spend some alone-time down by the ocean. It’s good for the brain.

  2. Toivo
    Toivo July 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm | |

    Wow, it’s like you have all the same issues as us we “normal” people:)
    Where to live and what to do?:)
    Enjoy LA Brad, Hope to meet you some time…
    Toivo

    1. cgs1210
      cgs1210 July 12, 2012 at 8:20 pm | |

      Toivo! My college buddy had an Uncle Toivo. Or maybe he was joking because we lived in da yoop. I can’t decide.

  3. MJ
    MJ July 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm | |

    Yeah, Akron sounds like Detroit. You can survive it and be creative, but you’re really tired afterwards.

    Good for you for trying a new direction. It’s easy to get stuck in the same old rut.

    F- Dogen, go stare at the ocean.

    1. Khru
      Khru July 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm | |

      Yes, F-him……who is Dogen?

  4. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon July 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm | |

    Khru writes a koan.

    Change pronoun for next level:

    “What asks the question?”

    1. Khru
      Khru July 7, 2012 at 12:41 am | |

      Change pronoun.

      Change question.

      Same answer.

  5. Fred
    Fred July 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm | |

    The synaptic conditioning asks the question.

    Silence answers the question.

  6. captainhardshell
    captainhardshell July 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm | |

    Ha! I was thinking about L.A. all day long, coming to some decisions of my own, then saw this blog post. Funny.

    After college, I moved with friends to San Jose, CA–a bit short of L.A., but at least there were palm trees and tons of people, two things that Michigan doesn’t have. I worked there for about four years, started freelance writing full time about six months ago, and recently moved to Holland, Michigan, about which I feel very similarly to your views of Akron–beautiful location, lots of fresh air, but a very different culture from what I’m used to. 28-year-olds here have owned houses for the last couple of years, and have baby strollers that cost about half as much as my car. And then there’s me, ecstatic to finally have an apartment that doesn’t costs $1,200 a month and has more than one room.

    But yeah, despite my family, I’m feeling the strain. I’m considered strange here for going to the grocery store for Doritos after 10:00 PM. 10-freaking-o’clock! It’s not like I did lines of coke off of Olivia Wilde’s backside when I was in CA. But you could buy snacks at night without seeming like a pedophile out on the hunt.

    I hit up a writers’ workshop in neighboring Grand Rapids, and found it populated exclusively by housewives writing kindle books about light erotica, like twilight for the over-fifty crowd. Which is perfectly fine, of course. But again, I was the weirdo because I brought a couple of my sci-fi shorts that didn’t involve cowboys with six-pack abs on the cover.

    All perfectly nice people, but yeah, I get what you’re saying about the forced-scope of “normalcy.” I may be hitting L.A. up one day soon myself, if I can find a compromise with my family that doesn’t make it seem like I’m abandoning them to a bleak future of state-run nursing homes staffed by ex-convicts who’ll steal their social security checks.

    Anyway, good luck!

    1. cgs1210
      cgs1210 July 12, 2012 at 8:39 pm | |

      @captain, I just moved back to my native Michigan after living in SF and Chicago. It is an adjustment, especially on the west side.

      At least I made it to Ann Arbor. It takes some time, wherever you go.

      Remember, your being there moved the average a bit more in your direction. Maybe just a little bit, but at least the direction of the arrow is right!

  7. boubi
    boubi July 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm | |

    Congrats Brad

    If you wanted to show how a zen line holder is like everybody else and as much as confused as the next man, you did a wonderful job.

    Without joking, your blog actually helped me in in understanding just it, thank you.

    Your talking about “boring” confused me, but i didn’t try to find a particular meaning in it, instead just remembered about the “beauty of the things” that comes to you when you don’t have too many or too heavy problems, or when you leave them behind.

  8. Ben
    Ben July 6, 2012 at 6:58 pm | |

    Nakano broadway is defiantly not “normal”. Was the Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant there when you lived in Tokyo, Brad?

  9. ranger julie
    ranger julie July 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm | |

    Hopefully it will be the best time and the best place for you. I grew up an hour away from there and I don’t miss it but there’s a specialness in the old hollywood that I truly dig. David Lynch captures it in “Muholland Drive”…
    Be well, glad you got there. I know you were wanting to.

  10. Dialogic
    Dialogic July 6, 2012 at 9:16 pm | |

    Pardon me for being off-topic but Tricycle today featured an excerpt from ‘Sit Down and Shut Up’ entitled, Think Non-thinking. Just wanted to acknowledge how helpful I found the excerpt and express my gratitude to Brad. Gassho

  11. Jinzang
    Jinzang July 6, 2012 at 9:40 pm | |

    “Nothing is boring and nothing is normal.”

    Learning to appreciate boredom is the first step on the path to meditation. If your meditation is special, either you’re very new or something is wrong.

    “But lots of people cant cope with life unless they create the illusions of normality and boredom.”

    What creates the illusion is our constant and relentless search for something better, something special. Must say it took me a long time to see this and how useless this is.

    “They work very hard to establish these things. And so there are shopping malls and chain stores and restaurants that belong to corporations and TV sitcoms.”

    These things exist because they are economically efficient, not because of some diseased mental state emanating from Middle America. Economic facts determine social relations, not the other way round. It’s the old Marxist base/superstructure argument.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 6, 2012 at 11:56 pm | |

    “Nothing is boring and nothing is normal.”- me too, Jinzang, that one jumped out at me. Now I have to go back and look at the context again:

    “Boredom and normality are illusions. Nothing is boring and nothing is normal. But lots of people cant cope with life unless they create the illusions of normality and boredom.”

    I think it was in the comment thread on the old blog that Mysterion mentioned cognitive dissonance, which is what happens when we enter the Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone and things don’t make sense anymore. There’s a resistance to that.

    Ok here’s a more correct definition of the term:

    “People tend to seek consistency in their beliefs and perceptions. So what happens when one of our beliefs conflicts with another previously held belief? The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.” (from psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/f/dissonance.htm)

    I think one of the reasons I am drawn to zazen is that I’m immediately aware that my experience is not boring or normal, when I sit.

    The dog is barking, very normal in this household, and the dog has buddha-nature-

  13. Mr Reee
    Mr Reee July 7, 2012 at 1:54 am | |

    Welcome back to California. Don’t forget to balance your visit between north and south. :)

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon July 7, 2012 at 9:18 am | |

      “Some more bull,” Boubi?

      Is Zazen the one “true” way?

      Ha ha ha ha ha.

  14. Fred
    Fred July 7, 2012 at 9:20 am | |

    Marian Mountain ( Derby ), The Zen Environment, 1982:

    ” Actually, D. T. Suzuki says that apratistha means ‘ to settle down where there
    is no settling down ‘

    ” Our old hometown is not just a place. It is also a state of mind, our egoistic
    description of reality, ……..”

    Lama Christie left her old hometown in her first retreat; now she has to drop
    the baggage of the last few years.

  15. Brookemcdoodle
    Brookemcdoodle July 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm | |

    One can love (or hate) wherever, home is pretty much inside the head anyway. I love the bunny suit, I have one just like it (home made) except that mine includes a large constricting snake (also homemade) wrap-around/hat accessory.

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm | |

    Suzuki strikes again, thanks Fred!

    Boubi’s link is to an article that concludes “one size fits all” doesn’t apply to meditation:

    “Participants in the study, many of whom had not practiced mediation before, learned four mediation techniques: Mantra, Mindfulness, Zen and Qigong Visualization. When they were asked to rate which one they liked best, Mantra and Mindfulness each received 31 percent of the vote. But 22 percent said Zen was their favorite, and 15 percent selected Qigong.”

    Wonder what the percentage is in L.A.? Wonder how Brad and the comments crew get a grant to study this in depth? Maybe Brookemcdoodle can chair our study… we can examine the EKG’s of people on Mulholland Ave. exposed to Hari Krishnas, see what goes to zero.

    That video of Ken Wilbur was odd- nothing about a benefit that anyone might experience through learning to produce brain waves at different frequencies, or not to produce them, just Ken demonstrating his prowess at bumping the bars.

    here’s for Brad’s new home in Joyland:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAg7ZqI8WXs&w=560&h=315

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