20 Years Ago, Part 1

Just found this unfinished, never-published blog post from May 03, 2012:

A couple years before the riots, I broke up with L.A. I had to. It had become a toxic relationship.

As a kid, I had loved L.A. with the high passion only a 10-year-old girl can muster. I couldn’t have articulated it, but I could feel there was some kind of urban magic popping in the air all around me, and I just wanted to go out and see it, or even just sit in my bedroom on Third Avenue and feel it.

In 1981, my best friend, Heidi Brown, and I made a deal that we were going to really devote ourselves to this whole L.A. thing in a much more serious way than we had previously done. We were going to explore L.A. and bear witness to it. We spent one evening making collages in tribute to our hometown. We cut the words and pictures out of our parents’ magazines. Fortunately for me, Heidi’s young, hip parents subscribed to Los Angeles Magazine. This made the task infinitely easier. I have the vaguest notion that we made some kind of pact that we would do something about L.A. every weekend, but the details are lost to me now. I do know that we made a scale model of the Bonaventure Hotel out of Pringles canisters and tin foil. We had a building-crush on the Bonaventure Hotel. The glass elevators sliding up and down the sides of the buildings were rounded capsules that would surely lead passengers to the future, or at least to another dimension. This seemed self-evident. I can't emphasize enough how the Bonaventure lit up the space-travel center of my 10-year-old brain.

And then there was the Pan-Pacific Theater, site of the interdimensional kitsch classic Xanadu, a movie that captured our imaginations as no other film had. You could say it was my Star Wars, except that it's really campy and stars Olivia Newton-John as a roller-skating Greek muse, and an Andy Gibb lookalike.

The film wouldn't have had any impact without the music of Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra. Sometimes, I wonder if my Xanadu obsession was really nothing more than my discovery of this man's music. But no. It was the combination of his music and the imagery of the city, my city turned ethereal and girl-tastic, as seen in the "I'm Alive" sequence.

I cannot deny that Xanadu may have been the catalyst for my deeply felt belief that we were living in the heart of a momentous metropolis. A great city at the cusp of full blossom. I don’t think we believed its greatest days were passed, or were even in full swing.

And then again. It's impossible to live in L.A. for any period, even as a child born here, and not absorb through architectural osmosis the distant beat of past glory, beauty, genius and glamour. There are always these ghosts, mostly friendly, some not-so. But I guess to me, at that age, just to feel those ancient ghosts was exciting and revelatory enough. Case in point: the Pan Pacific Theater.

 think maybe I suspected that the city had great days in its distant past, and in its near future, and that the middle-part was worth ignoring. I felt its great days were once again gearing up, and sure to unfold indefinitely, into a brilliant and eternal future. I didn’t think I’d be a part of that future, necessarily. I didn’t have a sense of self yet in that way. I was just excited by something I could smell in the air. Smog. And more.

There was undeniably something in the air. And yet Heidi Brown and I had no clue what actually enormous events were unfolding down the street, such as punk rock, gay rights, early hip-hop; and we had no idea what had recently unfolded: glam rock, swaggering rock gigantism among much else. We just felt excited. We were into it. We went places, and it felt historic

This was my perspective on L.A. for years, and it never let me down, for years. L.A. continually surprised me with its revelation, whether it was sneaking into John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s backyard in 1983 or the deep education I received from the radically intelligent nuns as an Immaculate Heart panda, or the infinite wealth of theatrical brilliance I soaked up thanks to my father, or the schizophrenic glory of early KROQ, or the wildness of the L.A. Street Scene festival: seeing Jane’s Addiction (and thinking they were horrible), and getting caught in a Guns ‘N Roses riot. Farmer’s Market was my home, and Ron and Russell Mael sat there every day at Magee’s Nuts, where my cool sister Maggie worked, and I was way too shy to ever go up to them. But it was all right.

And then…

Oh, things got bad.

For me, it started with KROQ turning lame. But that only seemed to coincide with everything else going bad.

(KROQ never played hip-hop—not even the Beastie Boys. Only K-Day played the Beasties.

What if KROQ had played hip-hop? Would that have changed anything? Probably not.)

Things just got bad. My neighborhood was Koreatown, Olympic and Crenshaw. Not heavily African American. Mostly white, Latino, Asian. But just a stone’s throw from black areas. Then the LAPD declared an undeclared war on African American guys, and anyone even adjacent began to experience it vicariously.

I’d never want to suggest I was in the middle of any of it. I wasn’t. I lived north of Olympic by a block or two. My neighborhood was wobbling between oblivion and upward mobility, but it was not a serious gang area.

And yet.

Somehow, as I entered later adolescence, so did Third Avenue. Somehow, we were having shootings and muggings, so that our next-door neighbor, Mr. Kim—who owned (among other things) the Beverly Hot Springs—had to stand in his driveway with a shotgun when his wife came home from work. You didn’t necessarily want to be outside at night. And the helicopters.

Someday, some university will do a real study on the psychological impact of helicopter searches on the local populace. At that time, a thousand adult children will cry and they will know, their psyches were violated unnecessarily at a tender age.

But we had it easy. Really. The shit was not going down in our hood. The shit was going down in neighborhoods not so far south, neighborhoods that looked identical to mine (just think of Boys N tha Hood). But not mine.

Every day, the Los Angeles Times’ Metro section read like a war casualties roster—or, as a friend described it, the sports page. The Crips vs. the Bloods was the running game, the ultimate rivalry. But god, it wasn’t sports, it was just totally insane tragedy, and it seemed like, for some reason, nothing would ever change.

I couldn’t tell you which was more upsetting—gang deaths or police brutality. They seemed to live together. A cycle. The police, at that time, lived up to every Pig stereotype you might ever hear, and L.A. south of Wilshire truly felt like a police state. 


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