I’ve been trying for the last two hours to respond to the “Living Out Loud” writing prompt: “Tell us about your neighborhood…” I’ve made at least 6 different starts (one of them a poem). I’ve skimmed the plethora of photos I’ve snapped over the years during my walks and rooftop visits. I’ve approached the topic from a dozen angles and instead of settling down on a narrative, the concept persists in expanding and escaping.
This week was my 16th anniversary of arriving in West Los Angeles. Although I never regretted the move (on the contrary), there were many months when I felt as if I was straddling the continent — conflicted between my love of living here and my love for my growing family back in the Maryland suburbs. I can’t tell you exactly when “out west” and “back home” changed to “home” and “back east”. But it did.
I’ve had visitors from out of town tell me they see beauty in my neighborhood. I don’t believe them. By most standards, it’s ugly. Not a single gram of charm. Yet I’ve walked miles of sidewalks here, repeatedly, and every time, I see a new blossom, a new color of petal. I’ve come to know certain trees. Not species, like oak or palm; no. Specific trees who haven’t told me their names yet.
My neighbors are like me; they come from all over the country and the world. On any given outing, I hear people speaking different languages, and I love it. I’ve never accomplished being conversant in a second language, so when I’m speaking with someone who’s still learning English, I’m both in awe of their multi-language skills and intrigued to find out more about where they come from. At work, in classes and church, I’ve made friends from Japan, Sweden, El Salvador, Belgium, South Africa, Syria, The Philippines, Denmark, Iran, and Vietnam. Until I have the time and money to travel, how wonderful to have the world come to me.
What else do I love about living in L.A.? (Not Huey Lewis.) I love abandoning my car every weekend and still being able to walk to art galleries and restaurants of 17 different cuisines. I love seeing Sissy Spacek in J. Crew and that creepy guy from Big Love in the Apple Store. I love the self-sorting area of the Santa Monica Recycling center. I love having a four-minute commute to work and a Top Chef running a restaurant on the premises once I get there. I love the Festival of Books at UCLA every April. I love being 7 minutes from one Getty Center and 13 minutes from the other. I love that the best musical talent in the world is never more than a 40-minute cab ride away. And yes, I love the Pacific Ocean.
Some of my neighbors sleep on the sidewalk. Some of them collect food and bottles from other people’s trashcans. Some of them ask for money when I walk by. Occasionally, I see people who are confused or experiencing bouts of mental self-torment but they’re not typically dangerous to anyone except themselves. Years ago, I made the decision to contribute to organized shelters rather than giving handouts on the street. Still, when I pass people in obvious states of need, I feel as if my response is inadequate.
My response is inadequate. Oddly enough, this is among the reasons why I love my neighborhood. I’m glad I don’t live sequestered away where I might forget those suffering from poverty. It’s hard enough to remember that the clean water flowing from my faucets is a luxury billions don’t have.
I don’t know how much longer Andy and I will live here. I’ve been going “month to month” for much more than a decade. It’s funny how aimlessness – in retrospect – can appear to have been deliberate. And maybe, subconsciously, it was. My neighbors understand this. They’ve been here for one long summer, too.