The Body Snatchers
I see your hair is burnin’
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar
Drivin’ down your freeways
Midnite alleys roam
Cops in cars, the topless bars
Never saw a woman…
So alone, so alone
So alone, so alone….
LA Woman, The Doors
Each summer, I travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific on an annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Los Angeles, California. This region of ten million people and four thousand square miles is an uneven potters wheel that creates beautiful and bizarre works of art – – crazed celebrities, brilliant entrepreneurs, dysfunctional artists and a supporting cast of bronzed metro-sexuals. It is pure entertainment against a backdrop of swaying palms, ubiquitous sunshine and a million unfulfilled dreams.
The City of Angels was my first lens to the world. It infused me with a comedian’s sarcasm, an appreciation for Latino culture, an aversion to anyone who spells their name phonetically, and an open mind to the metaphysical. Alas, much of the Los Angeles of my youth has disappeared. The Garden of Eden has been corrupted by a generation of interloping transplants who look and act like creatures out of a B movie called Invasion of the Frozen Fish Faces. It is a spiritual and material wasteland in spite of the fact that there is a church for everyone, even those who choose to worship cruciferous vegetables. Waiting tables is still the primary occupation for aspiring actors. A star is no longer “discovered” like Lana Turner at Schwab’s soda fountain in Hollywood. They are harvested like bacteria from a massive micro-celebrity Petri dish that feeds the cesspool of reality television. The studios now make millions pushing faux celebrities and washed up sitcom stars seeking a first or last break. The result is bizarre theatre of the absurd starring the intellectually challenged, the emotionally crippled and cotton candy products of plastic surgery whose exteriors have seen more shop time than a 1970 Jaguar.
The LA health club scene used to be the domain of the veiny, orange skinned body builder. This was the birthplace of Venice’s Muscle Beach and Gold’s Gym. In the 80’s, the grittier the health club, the better. My most recent visit to an LA fitness club was a deep dive into a well lit, mirrored tank filled with tanned, skeleton fish people replete with silicon lungs, faces frozen in bizarre disbelief and collagen lips that could dupe a giant squid into a marriage proposal. It seems that all the ugly or fat people were on permanent vacation. I later learned that the LAPD is now enforcing Beautification Ordinance 2008. The BO Law precludes ugly or overweight people from appearing in public places or on the beach until after 9 PM. Anyone caught in broad daylight wearing XXL shirts, black socks with shorts or plus sized clothing is given the choice of spending a day in jail or taking a Greyhound to Nevada.
In the gym, I walked past a girl that was showing her friend her new tongue tattoo. I was uneasy, certain that some perfect person would grab their cell and rat me out to the BO squad. I approached the juice bar and was bombarded with a formulary of smoothies all promising to clean my colon, raise my IQ and add years to the lives of any three people I choose. With names like ” Gut Buster” and ” The Regular” and ingredients of wheat grass, whey, apple, creatine and Omega 3 fats, these liquid time bombs were guaranteed to produce more methane than Pacific Gas & Electric. About two AM that morning, I was seriously considering calling my gastroenterologist for fear that I was the next Hindenburg.
Los Angeles traffic was reassuringly horrible. The 405 freeway between the valley and LAX remained a narrow clotted artery of hybrids and merging lanes. On this trip, I did not witness a single shooting on the asphalt jungle. It is surprisingly safe. LA drivers still possess assault weapons and higher caliber handguns than the .22 caliber peashooters that were tucked under every driver’s seat when I roamed the roads. However, the price of gas has left many with less disposable income to purchase bullets. People brandish weapons in anger but they just do not discharge them unless, they are being shot at car or happen across someone with a Clippers jersey walking down the street.
The Lakers and USC Trojans are now the ” it” teams. The Los Angeles Rams are gone. The Raiders were here just long enough to organize a fan club out of two time felons and those with social disorders. The Clippers and Bruins are like poor relations that only get invited to Thanksgiving dinner. My beloved Dodgers are mere echoes of their glory days. Tommy Lasorda has eaten his last calzone and now Joe Torre is calling signals and endorsing local banks from a surfboard. To add insult to injury, Manny Ramirez is now a Dodger. If this is not a final sign of the pending Apocalypse, I am not sure what is. LA got its first taste of the real Man Ram a few weeks back when he failed to show for the beginning of the 9th inning due to a protracted appointment in the locker room. Perhaps he consumed a Super Fiber smoothie before the game?
LA psychics are now more common than plastic surgeons as the true LA man employs shamans to clean up his mind, body and Karma. In a recent poll, one in four Angelinos believed that in a past life, he/she was a magician living in a nice neighborhood in the lost city of Atlantis. As I sat waiting for take out at PF Changs in Manhattan Beach, I overheard a woman on her cell phone. “So, after all that, I call my ‘Inuit’ and he figured out the problem ten times faster than my OBGYN.” Inuit healers? Do they use seal fat poultices? Narwhale horn powder? Later at a dinner with beautiful people, I tried to participate in the dog’s breakfast of subjects ranging from Scientology to the pros and cons of the one legged king pigeon yoga position. I was on my third Red Bull and feeling no pain. I turned to the kabuki-faced woman of indistinguishable age to my left. It was impossible to gauge whether she was experiencing pleasure or intense pain. I leaned in and casually asked, “So do you have your own Inuit?” She looked perplexed and then gave a tiny anorexic guffaw, chortling “Intuit! silly boy. An Intuit is a holistic healer, not an Eskimo!” Duh! It was like this everywhere. Body snatchers had invaded Los Angeles. I was afraid to go to sleep lest a taproot from a nearby potted plant attached itself to my ankle and the next morning I would wake up looking like Melanie Griffith.
My last night in LA was a dinner with a long time friend who is a producer for a major movie studio. As with all entertainment people, he dresses as if he has been wrestling all night with Joseph Abboud. He loathes superficiality but cannot resist constantly glancing over my shoulder to see who is coming in to our restaurant. He has a wickedly sinful sense of humor and regularly denounces LA claiming a move to some midwestern town is imminent. In the end, he remains in Brentwood claiming that there is no Chin Chin chinese chicken salada in the Midwest. “I’m a demented SOB,” he laughs. “Where else in America will they pay you just to be your sick self.”?
Hours later, my plane landed in JFK. A fat, gypsy cab driver tried to grab my bag. A hundred cars were honking a symphony of gridlocked anger as a cop screamed, ” move it” to an eighty year old woman. Swear words hung like ornaments in the humid summer air. There was not a frozen face or tan zombie to be found.
Home, sweet, home.