The thing is, I’ve lived in the greater Los Angeles area just about my entire life, so my difficulty with Hollywood has small but tangible consequences. I went to school in Walnut, CA, a drunk-on-track-homes suburb about 30 miles from L.A. that was so suburban I thought going into the city was driving to the local mall. Not to slight where I grew up: I have fond memories of childhood, and even my adolescence. I was basically autistic around girls, but I spent a lot of time in my head, so I tended to forget my unrelenting social ineptitude from one day to the next, which was nice for me, but probably not for anybody else.
One of the things I became preoccupied with in high school, other than girls, was this little excerpt of a poem in the front of my physics textbook. The poem was William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence,” and, even though I had no idea who William Blake was, we spent a lot of time together. The textbook only had the first four lines, “To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour,” but I read them just about every day, until I eventually went to the library and found the whole thing. It was the first book I had ever willingly checked out.
It’s easy to see why a physics textbook would like this poem: it’s all about the large inside of the small, the infinite married to the finite, the vast web of interconnectivity that fuses lighter elements into flesh and stone, and sends rocks spinning around the fire. Blake was a genius. He’s standing right up there next to Shakespeare and Whitman, and whoever channeled the Te Tao Ching and invented toothbrushes. I mention him because I feel like he could find a way to love Hollywood. He could find a way to scoop up all that stardust and fuse it into something resembling life, something warm, something I have yet to be able to do.
It’s my failing, I know. And even though Kerouac called Los Angeles the coldest city in America, I feel like there must be warmth somewhere in those Hollywood hills. Hopefully, those of you who have been reading for a while know that I am not prone to oversimplifications. I don’t think everyone in Hollywood is vapid, or platinum blonde, or cruising for a celebrity blow job. Along with everyone else I know, I speculate that Hollywood was something else in the twenties and thirties; there was a bit more twinkle in the stars, a bit more flash in the bulbs. Sure, the glamour cost a soul or two, but what doesn’t? Film was something mystical, the photographic dream of a generation who believed in the stars even though they’d never landed on the moon.
Of course, there was WWII to bring us down to earth: all those shadows keeping perfect time in Hiroshima, all those piles of shoes without people to wear them. But then there was Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne, Grace Kelley and Ingrid Bergman to help us forget. Even JFK seemed like a great white Hollywood dream until MLK got in on the act and colorized the world. Then we had Sidney Poitier sweating down south In the Heat of the Night so we didn’t have to, and going to dinner with Katharine Hepburn to help us through those awkward interracial pauses. We dreamed big, and our movies tagged right along, helping us skip work every step of the way.
I imagine us, back then, imagining more than this 21st century pile of ironic clothes and fundamentalist clap-trap. I imagine we imagined we’d be more than our endlessly accoutered images and manicured tastes. Yes, it’s a tough city for me–the city that beat down Faulkner, and drove out Fitzgerald. Those long avenues of landmarks and exhausted props, where tourists come to take pictures of the backside of the American dream. Yes, even drunk I can’t muster it. There are too many yoga stars for me to find a light. I can’t ramble my way out of this one. I thought maybe following my adolescent thread would lead me out of the labyrinth, as if Blake were my Ariadne, but it didn’t.
No man can fault another for aping the stars–we are, after all, creation’s hobble; still, in that long artistic scrawl from cave paintings to key grips, I have to think we were never meant to walk on them.