Notes on Santa Monica
Beautiful days. If you live in Santa Monica, you face an iron curtain of beautiful days. Granted, there are worse iron curtains. Still, if you want to write, the days, in the monotonous self-affirmation, can give you the frustrating feeling that there’s nothing here to grip, nothing to fight with. True, there is June gloom, there are a few days in what is laughingly called winter where you keep the heat on almost all day, and days of summer where we tickle close to Dixie. But basically you walk out, the sky is blue, the sun is up, the flowers (all immigrants here) are springing with exotic colors and designer stamens, the cars are expensive, the yoga places and gyms are doing a roaring business, and the ladies in the numerous nails and hair spas are all kneeling before obviously well to do women, helpfully rounding nails and, well, aroma pedicuring, whatever that is. Win/win, obviously, up and down the block and all the way out to the Pacific, which is we know a little worse for wear, a little dangerously warmer, but still licks the shore bluely, in the distance. The joggers and dogwalkers compete for sidewalk space, the tourists are heading for the beach, and everything is as right as an icecream cone in the fist of a child.
I can’t complain. I complain. I was born complaining, a whiner from the first doc’s whack on my buttocks. Still, on our last night, when we went to Loews, ordered drinks, got in the hot tub and watched the sun set over the Pacific, I had to remember that this isn’t normal.
And then I remember other things. How Mutually Assured Destruction was planned out by a buncha the mildest war criminals in history just down the street. How Whitey Bulger retired here. How the sidewalks are filled with half naked homeless people, whose raving speeches, though often devolving into simple curses, are often, as well, much more eloquent and rhetorically interesting than the conversation of the college educated and well off in the line at the Whole Foods. I remember that Carlos Castenada led a strange, mostly female cult just up the street in West L.A., sending his “witches” to recruit on 3rd street. I remember that Santa Monica was “Baytown” for Raymond Chandler, a corrupt little berg with a bunch of hooey clinics where the docs dispensed heroin to junkies with a wink. I even sometimes remember that all the world isn’t white.
Of course, the beautiful days sometimes got up the snoots of certain observers – most notably, Theodor Adorno, whose Minima Moralia is much like a death threat to the whole scene. More elegantly written, granted, than your average serial killer or kidnapper’s screed. Still, lovely in its roving meanness.
“Every tegument which intervenes between human interactions is felt to be a disturbance of the functioning of the apparatus, in which they are not only objectively incorporated, but to which they belong with pride. That they greet each other with the familiar egalitarian hellos instead of doffing their hats, that they send each other interoffice memos devoid of addresses or signatures instead of letters, are the endemic symptoms of the sickness of contact. Alienation manifests itself in human beings precisely in the fact that distances fall away. For only so long as they are not overwhelmed with giving and taking, discussion and conclusion, access and function, would enough space remain between them for that fine mesh of threads, which connects them to each other, and whereby that which is external [Auswendige] truly crystallizes as what is assimilated [Inwendiges].”
Yes, you can see the death of civilization creeping closer with the death of the custom of doffing hats. Those Europeans! One if reminded of Freud’s reflection that the American custom of “flirting” shows what an essentially unserious society America has produced.
But I understand. The Elvis Costello rule (“I want to bite the hand that feeds me/I want to bite that hand so badly”) applies here if it applies anywhere. I’ve heard the rumor that Dogtown – formerly the cheaper part of Santa Monica, running along Main street – lucky to buy a house below 750 there now – was crucial to the birth of Southern California Punk.
But I floated in the pool at Loews, gulped down my margarita, and got sentimental about the four years we spent here. I love it that Adam learned his “American” here. I loved the round of coffee shops in which I wrote and wrote, on a computer that had a French keyboard that was freezing up, one key at a time. Have you ever had that divine moment when you cry out, yes, I would do it all over again, in exactly that order, with exactly those actions, facing exactly those consequences? The eternal sandglass of existence will be turned ever once more, and you with it, you grain of sand! Something like that. Well, that was my Loew’s experience.
Then, next day, we left for Paris.