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Why people come to LA
And why I’m staying.
People go to LA because they want BIG BIG BIG.
That’s why I came here. Big. To live to the point of tears, as my LA friendsaid to me in a frenzy. It’s Mount Olympus. I just saw Bob Saget at the airport!
Pretend you don’t see celebrities – that’s what they tell you here.
What they don’t tell you is that all that aiming for the summit seems to have an inverse effect at the base. The lowest of the low are lower than low. Shutter Island stuff. People walk the streets, fighting demons not seen.
Heaven and hell cleaves this city down an invisible line. Crossing that line requires smiling, schmoozing, and a sacrificial goat.
Not only is it bad for those who don’t get to eat peeled grapes with Aphrodite, it also sucks the dirt out of DiCaprio's Garden of Eden.
You can’t have a healthy crop without shit, after all. And the haloed head without dirty feet may be beautiful, but it can’t walk to the store and buy milk (no one walks in LA).
So, the elite are anemic and the lowly are mach-5 disordered.
Yeah, ugly. What should I do? Move?
But I like it here. Good weather, you know. Also, I like to get under stage lights from time to time: doing comedy. No fame required. Just occasional make-‘em-ups. Goofin’ in front of an audience of mostly just my friends.
Besides, the bigger the problem, the more there is to be done. The more I get over myself, the more I realize how much I like having things to do. Doing laundry. Buying groceries. Handshakes and eye contact.
One truly haloed person with dirty feet can transform a city, I’ve come to suspect. If that’s true, then the cosmos needs me! I just hadn’t bothered to look lowdown enough.
The line that connects heaven and earth is only a thin bolt. Humble, in a way.
What would that actually look like?
I’ve been adding some dirt to my life. I sometimes hand out food to the homeless. That’s not to brag – it feels good. I sometimes help them swat away the rat demons gnawing at their flesh. Careful – drowning people claw you below the surface and hold you under.
I met a homeless guy named Frank. He’s been singled out by God to save us all, he told me. Frank can’t even look me in the eye. I’m pretty sure it’s the devil, Frank. Watch out.
Still, it’s good to know Frank. It stops me from being hollow – gutless.
You know, because of people like Frank, I think I understand how to be a good person for the first time in my life. It’s all from within. The fame or the money – that was never going to save me.
Social climbers. You know who I mean. They always have an angle. They’re always trying to get higher. Or, probably more accurately, avoid going lower. To join Frank would be worse than death. Hell is a better motivator than heaven to the confused.
The climbers remind me of cicada bug shells back in Louisiana. Hollow. Once full of life but long ago left hanging. All that’s left is a sad little clinger.
Wannabes and hangers-on. You know. People who say, “If I’m not famous by 30, I’m leaving LA!” They go to the “right” parties. They flake on you because you don’t have Dan Harmon’s number in your phone (I never said I did). They step over Frank without looking twice.
But, and I’ve seen this personally (I knew a girl who ended up on SNL), at the very top, you tend to see truly devout people. Generous. Focused. They only worship one thing.
Because as Aquinas says, every choice is a renunciation. Every bagel eaten is a McMuffin foregone. Every moment of Netflix binged is a mountain unclimbed.
Sure, some (a lot?) of our “stars” are definitely devoted to the devil. But, honestly, sometimes that works out for them in the medium-long term (God help them in the long-long term). My Danish friend, Soren Kierkegaard said, “To be a saint is to will the one thing.” Truly successful people in this city will one thing, whatever it may be.
Most people are tempted by every shiny object that enters their field of vision. Success, one day; comfort, the next. In the end, it’s a wash – no higher, no lower. But older. That goes on until they’re Uhauling right back to the Midwest.
Say what you want about Tom Cruise, Scientology makes him a 60-year-old-who-looks-40 demigod. With his (in)famously frenzied energy, Tom devotes everything to his “higher power.” He does his own stunts; he doesn’t see his own kids. He risks mind, body, and reputation — everything is on the altar. He is aimed at one thing: Tom.
And yet, I don’t want to be a Scientologist. It’s not long-term enough. Nor high enough. Nor low enough. I don’t want to worship fame or money or Xenu (or whoever they chant to). I don’t want to be a cicada clinger or an anemic elite. I want to worship what’s somehow both good and close to the earth.
I want to have my feet in the dirt and my head in the stars. Yeah, the stars here are dim and the dirt is covered in concrete – but, like I said, the more I get over myself, the more I like having something hard to do.
Can that be all there is to it?
I feel better, anyway. Hell, the city feels better. It looks better. The sun shines brighter. Is that just in my mind?
Not sure there’s a difference.
Thanks for reading,
Special thanks to
Andfor the line about the stars and the concrete.
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