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I’ve Been Living in LA Almost 10 Years. Am I Now Officially a Douchebag? [California Seething]

I left New York City about two weeks after Sept 11, 2001. At the time, I felt like a bit of a heel (for those that don’t speak Noir- a heel is worse than a cad but better than a crum-bum.) After all, the entire nation was weeping and praying and sending their love to New York and I was all “Peace out, bitchez- I’m going to Cali! Good luck with all that healing and shit- Daddy’s getting his beach on!” Of course, there are a couple of reasons why I shouldn’t have felt bad for leaving:

1. I had been planning to move out of NYC for some time before Sept 11 and had quit my job and already secured an apartment in LA.

2. While the entire nation was happy to pour love and affection into NYC, there was no way in hell that any of them were actually about to show up there in person. In fact, I would bet that most of the red-state, pink-cheeked Americans in Oklahoma and Missouri (that’s a place, right? “Missouri”?) who bought shiny new FDNY caps and “We Will Not Forget” t-shirts on Sept 12, 2001, hated New York with a passion on Sept 10. They hated the gays, the Jews, the commies, the Yankees, the Mets, the Knicks, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Ed Koch, subways, hot dogs, pastrami, homeless people, drug dealers, the smell of urine, high taxes, bad traffic, knishes, theatre, Puerto Ricans, Brooklyn accents, stockbrokers, Port Authority, being yelled at and, yes, probably even the World Trade Center. The only way they could sustain their empathy for New Yorkers after the attacks was if they pretended that the hook-nosed, cross-dressing, book-reading, coke-snorting socialists which they had (quite accurately) believed New Yorkers to be had been magically replaced by a master race of square jawed uniformed Heroes. I, though, had no need for such Rudy Mussolini delusions. After six long, difficult and infrequently wonderful years in the City I could honestly say that I loved that fucked up town and all the crazy  hustlers who were stupid enough to call it home- from the Greek guy who sold me my morning egg & cheese on a roll and called himself “Fonzi” (“Because I’m cool, like the Fonz, right??? Aaaaaaayyy!!!!”) and the 5’ tall bouncer at my neighborhood comedy club who, like a Puerto Rican Scrappy Doo, was always rarin’ to punch a taller man in the stomach and who supplemented his income by selling fake degrees and credentials (“Yo, man, what you wanna go to Grad School for? For like 200 bucks I can make you an X-Ray tech. That’s some easy shit, yo- just turn the machines up all the way and get the fuck out the room.”) I also knew the City well enough to understand that no matter how much I loved her, that scrawny old orange lipstick wearing harridan could give a rat’s ass about me. The only thing she really loved was cold, hard cash- and she would be perfectly happy to have me gone so she could rent out my tiny, dark, fourth-floor walk-up sweatbox for twice as much money to the next sucker dumb enough to move in. (Sigh. I loved that sweatbox).

After vacating said sweatbox, and because tourists weren’t coming to New York right then, my wife and I were able to get a slamming room on the 40th floor of a beautiful new hotel in midtown with an absolutely incredible view (taking Terrorism and making Terror-Aide!) for our final night in the City. We then hit the streets for one of those great Manhattan nights- the kind that make you feel like you’re about to burst into song with Gene Kelley and a bunch of sailors only, you know, a lot less gay than that. As the night wound down, we sat in our room, looking out over the blanket of twinkling lights that swaddle the filth of the city we loved and wondered what life would be like in LA (SPOILER ALERT: LA fucking sucked.)

LA fucking sucked (TOLD YOU SO) (SOMETIMES, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHY I BOTHER) (INGRATES) At least at first it did for the first 60 or 70 months during which time I walked around with a permanent condescending East Coast scowl etched on my face as I compared everything I saw, did, ate and drank to the lost paradise of 94th & 2nd. Some may say that the emotionally charged circumstances surrounding my exit from New York may have made it even more difficult than it would have ordinarily been to adjust to LA, but I don’t think that’s giving LA nearly enough credit. I think this LA is perfectly capable of bugging the shit out of me all by itself and it doesn’t need any help from New York or anywhere. Sure, I kept comparing it to New York, but that’s only because in New York I could get pizza that didn’t taste like cardboard covered in ketchup (What’s the point of all these marijuana dispensaries if your can’t get a decent pizza in this town? It’s like legalizing weed and banning Pink Floyd), pink cream cheese is ALWAYS lox spread NEVER strawberry (if you want a sweet bagel, have a doughnut asshole), and nobody is stupid enough to think that the wind is the worst possible weather condition they can imagine (uhm, golf ball sized hail? I’m just saying). Still, after a few years, my disdain faded, I forgot what food is supposed to taste like and I lost enough chunks of my soul that I could actually start considering myself a real Angeleno- or “Douchebag” as we’re more commonly known.

Here are some tips and tricks for the aspiring east coast transplant looking to make themselves at home in LA.

1. Don’t try to do more than one thing per day

The first day after we moved here we woke up early with big plans. After going to breakfast in Venice Beach, we were going to hit the Ikea in Burbank for furniture, then the Home Depot in Marina Del Rey for painting supplies, and the Best Buy in Culver City to price out a new TV. After that, maybe we’d have lunch and figure out what to do with the rest of the day.

Around 2pm, we finally reached Ikea praying for the sweet, sweet release of death. Like the furniture we were there to purchase, our poorly assembled plans had fallen horribly apart. As we drowned our sorrows in meatballs and lingonberry juice, we made a sacred pledge to never again try and do more than one major errand per day and, for the love of god, never to return to Burbank, no matter how tempting it is to attend a taping of The Price is Right. If we were to desperately need a fix of suburban mediocrity, we could always hit the Outback Steakhouse in Torrance (Burbank South) I’m proud to say that since then our weekends have been much calmer- if not particularly productive and that we’ve driven to Albuquerque more often than the Valley, which takes about as long during rush hour.

2.   Don’t eat the food. Don’t drink the water.

One of the best things you can do after moving to LA is subscribe to Los Angeles Magazine. It’s an attractive publication chock-full of intelligently written, insightful articles and restaurant reviews. The key to dining successfully in LA is to scrutinize these reviews, find all the hottest restaurants with the most innovative chefs and the trendiest clientele and avoid them like the FUCKING PLAGUE. While the chefs in these restaurants may be masters of molecular gastronomy who serve up a mean deconstructed duck confit reduction with a California-Asian-fusion inspired oyster foam reduction they have absolutely no ability to prepare food that real human beings might actually want to eat. Unless you enjoy paying enough to renovate a small kitchen to get a microscopic portion of overly precious inedible crap born of the fusion of two cultures like Japanese and Italian that would make for a better match-up on Deadliest Warrior or alliance of World War II bad-guys than a delicious culinary blend served to you by staggeringly beautiful people who hate your guts for not even trying to be Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks or even Andy Dick you should avoid all of these places. If you are, for some reason, compelled to go to one of these restaurants,I recommend ordering the most complicated outrageous thing on the menu (cilantro oil infused kangaroo-rattlesnake burritos with daikon radishes and essence of bacon) just to dare them to actually make it and then locate the nearest In & Out Burger as soon is the meal is done so you can cram some greasy nutrients back in your system and get the hateful, vile taste of overpriced, overrated utterly inedible West Coast pretension out of your mouth (vanilla shake is best for this).

Even worse are the restaurants with a World View- raw, vegan, locavore etc. Unless you enjoy chewing on the dashboard of a Prius while an angry woman yells at you about your insufficient composting habits, these are not establishments worth frequenting.

The epicenter of LA dining douchebaggery was an establishment named Forage in Silverlake. The central conceit of Forage was that you would bring produce from your little hipster urban garden in Los Feliz and the Croc wearing asshole of a chef would cook it up for you. Of course, as with all things in LA- it was not as simple as it appeared. You couldn’t just wander in with a bunch of oranges and a dead duck from your backyard at any time and hand them to the chef to make you Duck L’Orange. Oh no- you had to show up on a particular day, between particular hours, through an unmarked entrance and hand over the pitiful fruits of your unworthy harvest to the chef for scrutiny. Naturally, there was no way to find this information anywhere, so if you weren’t already cool enough to know this process in advance you were just going to get your pathetic little basket of unhip, Westside turnips thrown right back in your un-pierced face. Just what LA needed- another way to be judged! A place to be evaluated not only for the way you look, the clothes you wear, the money you make, the people you know, the music you listen to, the movies you watch, the food you eat and the house you live in- but also the quality of your agricultural output. I knew we were missing something! Only in a city full of actors could you open a theme restaurant based entirely on the concepts of healthy eating and abject rejection. Unfortunately for fans of local produce and easy targets for mockery, the health department has put a stop to this process at Forage because- hey, guess what, it’s actually illegal to serve random food made by unlicensed producers in uncontrolled environments- who knew? (Everybody.)

Does this mean that there are no places worth eating in Los Angeles and that the best option is to starve to death? Contrary to what Calista Flockhart would have you believe- the answer is no! There are plenty of great places to eat- usually in non-descript strip malls in unsexy neighborhoods. Family owned places cooking food from a single ethnic tradition and focused more on quality and quantity than posturing and attitude. Carousel, Papa Christos, Guelaguetza and, the aforementioned In & Out and, of course, the Holy Grail of LA dining- Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles. The coffee may be terrible and the menu baffling (the item “chicken and waffles”, for instance, is notably absent) but nothing beats the cholesterific explosion of yumminess in your mouth when golden brown fried chicken skin collides with maple drenched waffles creating a glorious union of magical goodness that far exceeds the sum of its parts- like Siegfried and Roy- only, you know, a lot less gay than that. Now that’s some fusion I can live with! (Until I die of a heart attack.)

Oh yeah, and the water. Fucking battery acid- don’t drink it. We steal it from all around the country, pipe it in, chlorinate it, and then to add insult to environmental injury, buy all of our drinking water in small plastic bottles. But then we recycle the bottles- so everything works out just fine! Noah Cross would be proud.

3. People smile at you. It’s weird. Get over it.

Back when I still had delusions of being an actual theatre artist before I realized my creative destiny was to compare brands of vodka for the bar and fix the toilet (and get health benefits for doing it! I win!) I read a book on directing which suggested that the best way to learn about elegantly placing a large number of people on stage was to study the paintings of the Old Masters. The Old Masters were, well, Masters at arranging people in a small space in an intriguing and attractive fashion that allowed all their faces to be clearly seen. I believe that you can learn the same lesson simply by riding the subway (the New York subway that is) (there is no other subway) (get your “Metro” out of my face, fool.) On the subway, every single person finds the exact placement for their head and neck that ensures that they will make absolutely no eye contact with anyone else on the train- resulting in an intriguing composition in which all their faces can be seen perfectly. That is, if you look at them. Which you shouldn’t do. Just stare straight ahead. Don’t make eye contact unless you enjoy conversations that start with “You gotta problem?” and end with an ass-kicking.

In LA, though, things are different. People look at you. They smile at you. They even talk to you! I know, it’s crazy, right! The first few weeks I was here, I totally couldn’t handle it. Whenever I walked my dog in Venice, I would have a series of exchanges like:

Jogger: “Hey man, that’s a pretty dog”

Me: “Fuck off.”

Hippie: “Hey, bro- what kind of dog is that?”

Me: “Go away. I don’t have any money”

Little Girl: “OOOOOhhhh, what a cute doggie. What’s his name?”

Me: “Get the hell away from him”

Little Girl: “Can I pet your doggie?”

Me: “I WILL CUT YOU.”

For a while, I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be friendly like everybody else? Had I been so marked by my experience in New York that I couldn’t relate to people in the rest of the world? Had the City ruined me for life?

Soon, though, I realized that the people in LA weren’t actually friendly. They only act friendly because they haven’t yet determined if you’re someone who can actually help them with their career and they want to make sure they don’t piss you off in case you can. Once I realized that everyone here was just a superficial, career minded, self centered, greedy, sniveling hypocrite- I understood that they weren’t so different from the New Yorkers I loved, and that it was OK to talk to them after all as long as I didn’t trust anyone or attempt to form meaningful relationships or loan anyone money. Just like home! It’s nice to think that deep down we’re all basically the same.

4. Accept the fact you’re never gonna leave.

If you are from the East Coast- here are some sentences you should remove from your repertoire:

“When I move back to Boston…”

“Dude, I’m so moving back to the City next year…”

“Check it out- this awesome, huge house just opened up in my parent’s neighborhood in Albany. I’m totally buying that…”

“As soon as the kids are old enough for school, we’re moving right back to the East Coast. No doubt about it…”

Right, so, these are all filthy lies and the sooner you stop telling them to yourself and others, the better. The East Coast is your high-school girlfriend, and you, my friend are a freshman at West Coast University. No matter what tearful promises you exchange on the phone in the middle of the night when you’re lonely and homesick, the fact of the matter is that it was over the minute you kissed goodbye at the airport and she’s already fucking the new Swedish foreign exchange student on the dingy couch in the basement of his host family’s modest house- it’s time for you to move on as well.

Besides- have you seen this place- it’s beautiful out there! The weather is always room temperature, there’s palm trees in the ‘hood, the worst neighborhoods have the cutest houses (albeit with bars on the windows) and on particularly clear days, they even roll out the mountains in the background. Besides- tell me your heart doesn’t skip a beat every time you see the Hollywood sign and that you’re not secretly giddy whenever you see a pissed off John Lithgow waiting for his luggage at the Southwest terminal or Judd Nelson practically passes out in your lap at a faux English pub in Santa Monica, or William Shatner having brunch with his grandkids. That’s Captain Kirk ordering Eggs Benedict- HOLY SHIT! I mean, come on, man- it’s fucking paradise. The only reason it doesn’t feel like that is that it really sucks a lot of the time.

And besides, tell me that now, when you see a transplanted New Yorker walking around all in black with a condescending scowl etched on their face you don’t just want to throw some flip-flops and a bright yellow “Don’t Worry- Be Happy” t-shirt from the Venice Boardwalk on them, take them to Zankou Chicken or- if they are deemed to be worthy, Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles and keep on smiling at them ‘til they chill the fuck out.

So there you have it, my painfully long brief guide to adjusting to life in Los Angeles. Follow these simple instructions and soon you’ll be riding around on roller skates, smiling at everyone and singing a happy song- kind of like Olivia Newton John in Xanadu- only, you know, a lot less gay than that.

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