Thursday, August 22, 2013

a curse on quiet

There is one phrase we would run into constantly while apartment hunting – a phrase that would always put a clammy hand on my heart. The phrase was: its very quiet. Invariably, as we were being shown around this or that apartment in Los Angeles, which when last I looked held more than 2 million people, the selling point of quiet would come up. I’d immediately have a Gaslight flashback, the Victorian medical man with the florid moustache hiding his louche London night life of underage prostitutes and gambling under the veneer of the vest, suit, and checkbook, bringing his Ingrid Bergmanesque wife, a quiet lass, to his suburban retreat. He’s a strong advocate of vivisection, this guy, and the streets all about have suffered a mysterious epidemic of dognapping that has made them even quieter. Ingrid, of course, is diagnosed by her husband as needing rest and quiet  - o so much quiet. She needs to eat the unpalatable gruel brought by the serving girl who shows a little too much bodice…

Such, at least, are my associations. In truth, I am not a naïve – I know race code when I hear it, and often quiet simply means that no person of color is going to flood the zone with the oeuvres complets of Biggie Smalls at 2 in the morning. We are, the subtitles in this conversation go, among us white folk. This in itself is rather disgusting. But the subtext is not the full text, for there is something in being quiet – in the quiet of “the country in the city” (also a phrase that was thrown at us) which is utterly sincere. You may live in the city, but who wants to, well, live in the city?

As a matter of fact, I do. One of the small, tangible joys of our apartment in Paris is hearing, from our bed, the faint noise of people in cafes coming in through the window. Singing, or conversing loudly, or just being generally drunk and happy. This to me makes me feel, romantically, like I am living in the great city, the mecca for those with more boho tastes. Of course, it is the Marais, so boho is pretty fake, but still.

Last night, after our exhausting two week troll through the ads, and after having had our credit checked out, our intestines measured, and our criminal record examined by Interpol, the Pinkertons, and the NSA, we finally were able to settle into our living quarters here on 9th street in Santa Monica for our first night. It was a great night, partly because Adam seemed to love sleeping here (a sure sign!) and partly because you could hear the noise of traffic on Wilshire, which is the next street up. The sea breeze was blowing – a bit too much, we have to get a thicker coverlet! – and there was a city quiet entering the room.

In actuality, country quiet is not a noiseless matter of people shutting themselves in houses and closing the door – it is a matter of horses neighing, dogs barking, coyotes howling in the distance (I was living in Pecos, New Mexico at the time – plenty of coyotes) and, of course, the occasional drunk wandering home from our local bar, the so called “bloody bow” – the Rainbow Club. Of course, that occasional drunk was sometimes yours truly, but still.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I pity the poor emigrant

Like Bob Dylan, I pity the poor emigrant. Especially when the poor emigrant is me – although poor is not the precise word. Poor conjures up the guy who struggles up from the hold, where half of his fellow travelers have died of the potato famine, who is thrown by some savage matelot into the line to be processed by a customs official on Ellis Island, a creep with leering eyes who changes  his name and gives him an official paper proclaiming him eligible for exploitation by his Darwinian  betters and has him and his four cardboard suitcases kicked out into the street, where he picks himself up and finds a job as a stringman in a windowshade factory for ten cents an hour, 26 hours a day. As we know, in just one hundred twenty years, such is the miracle of America, his great great grandchildren have risen to have degrees, hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, and great jobs as salesmen at designer pillow boutiques, or slinging escargot, for hedgefund geniuses, 26 hours a day, in some of our finest restaurants, and using their disposable income to gentrify selected streets in Astoria.
Such is not my plight, however. Emigrating to Los Angeles has its own meatgrinder aspect. One of them is the omnipresence of cars. I was prepared, or so I thought, for this. My life has not be a car-crossed one – the last time I owned a vehicle, an unfortunate AMC matador that bit me in the ass and died of a broken block, was more than twenty years ago. And before my tragic tete a tete with the Matador, I sufficed largely by driving borrowed vehicles, when I had to, and using my legs (walking, biking) to crawl across my environs at all other times. It worked! It even worked in Paris, where there is certainly a crazy car culture but where things tend to cuddle together, houses, apartments, stores, theaters and cafes, so that you can pretty much get to them in five minutes at a leisurely gait.
We have put all our money down on a place in Santa Monica, and are now planning our next big play: a car. So far, Hertz, an awful rental company, has been providing us our car, something called a Senta. I’ve read that the new generation, the generation that is so happily serving our financial elite in its off hours, has grown disaffected with the car.  I of course am older than the ancient mariner, so I remember when the names of different kinds of cars were known to my schoolmates, and could even be recognized at a distance. This is something I have never been good at. What others see as, for instance, an Acura or a Golf or some similarly ridiculous monikor, will appear to me as the small gray car or the larger blue car or whatever color the car happens to be. I only remember the car type I bought back in the day because it was such a pain in the ass. This Senta is a pain in the ass, too – this is one of the literal problems of driving aimlessly all over Los Angeles in search of the basics. This is what emigrants do – we search for the basics. Grocery stores, mattress stores, baby furniture shops, coffee places with wifi, etc. etc. The emigrant spends his first weeks not, as he imagined, lolling in the sun on the beach, but in a prolonged state of sticker shock among the big ticket items that are supposed to form the context of his domestic world.

The synthetic progressive

I have been searching for a term to encompass one of the great features of capitalism – the non-necessary synthesis. I guess I will call it ...