The Mystery of Neighborhoods
It’s the day before I leave Los Angeles, and I’m sitting at Verve Coffee on Melrose. The coffee is solid, I’ve tasted it in the SF location. On the drive here, and most of my time here, I kept thinking about how I wanted to know what neighborhood I was in. Is this Beverly Hills? Is this West Hollywood? The café itself is gorgeous, window-filled, chevron-floored, a warehouse-like ceiling, a patio with twinkle lights lace trees, and geometric patterns of shade fabrics above. It’s hot, busy, and quiet. But the street is barren. There’s a fine art gallery opposite, luxury appliance stores around the corner, but nothing that invokes desire for me to swipe my credit card.
The question, though, isn’t so much what neighborhood am I in (my table mate told me it IS West Hollywood), it’s what neighborhood should I be in. Driving around this mammoth town, I’ve been overjoyed with homes or walkable business districts, but have no name for my location. I’d be nonplussed or downright annoyed, and think, well, I should avoid this place. But what is that place?
In the act of traveling I itch to identify with my surroundings. I'd like to be jazzed about the place where I find my feet walking. If there’s a name for it, I’ll remember it, and maybe become it. But Los Angeles is too big. It’s not A place. It’s A LOT of places. I want to belong. Not to a street, but to a set of streets. A neighborhood is a collective. It’s a mirror of who you think you are. Not necessarily who you are, but who you think you are.
Perhaps there’s a leaning towards homogeneity in this. If these folks look like me, I look like this place. But that depends on what we’re used to, what we desire. Conformity drives me nutso. So maybe not for me. I don’t want to be surrounded by only white folks, or only women, or only queers or heteros. I’m staying with my brother and his boyfriend here, greeting gorgeous disheveled gay men on mornings as I walk Hoopla around the block.
Another take is that if this place looks like my past, maybe it can be my future. The strip where I went to a poetry reading in Atwater Village reminded me of blocks along Shattuck Ave in Berkeley. This café where I write reminds me of El Beit in Williamsburg. Boom, I belong, right? No, it’s not like that. The internal and external worlds overlap, but they aren’t the same.
And maybe this is why I’m traveling in the first place. While I was loved, I had familiarity with my setting, a diverse and ever-changing cityscape, an easy climate, I didn’t feel like I belonged. What triggers that in us anyhow? Is it knowing the streets? Is it the right number of activity partners? Fulfilling work? Being cared for?
For me it is the sense of possibility. Hope. It’s less about consistency or understanding than it is about the idea that I will grow here. I will survive, and more, I will thrive. I wonder if that means there must be unknowns, mystery.
The Tom Robbins novel Still Life With Woodpecker has as its entire aeda that love is mystery. It's been years since I read it, but I remember Leigh-Cheri's, princess of the Kingdom of the Heart, keeps asking how you make love stay. By the end of the philosophical pseudo-fairytale she takes as a partial answer, mystery. Mystery invites an opening up of the soul. Mystery catalyzes desire.
So maybe it's the fact that I don't know where I am that has made me begin to like this city.