An Attempted Valentine
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By Marc Porter Zasada
Today, the Urban Man has set out to compose a valentine to greater Los Angeles. I figure every town deserves a little sincere affection. In fact, I first got the idea while visiting Dublin, Ireland, where they understand affection.
It was a foggy weeknight at the tail end of a business trip, and I was following the crowds through the narrow lanes of Temple Bar. Loud music and smoky light streamed from the open pubs, and by my side, a scruffy drunk began a conversation, as scruffy drunks will. Just before I slipped into a doorway, he put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Do you not love this city? Confess it to me, man, is Dublin not the greatest city on earth?"
At once my mind was not in Dublin, but home in L.A. And I tried to picture a drunk on Spring Street or Venice Beach or even the Third Street Promenade taking me by the shoulder and saying something like this, with actual tears in his eyes.
And of course, I could not.
Inside the pub, the music was no better than it would be at any L.A. nightspot, but the young people were singing along with song after song of love for Dublin -- a town often as dreary and traffic-choked as our own. There were sad songs and happy songs, but all sincere -- Randy Newman need not apply.
As I drank a bitter pint, I recalled a drive I'd taken that morning with Irish colleagues along a coast of cliffs and castles. I remembered the unembarrassed tone of pride and ownership in their voices. And then I imagined making a similar drive up the Pacific Coast Highway with colleagues in L.A. I tried to imagine ownership in our voices as we passed the shifting palisades and gaudy mansions. I tried to picture getting past real estate speculation to hear some genuine fondness.
But... no. A transient appreciation for the weather, sure. A fey commentary on the eccentricities of wealth and poverty on the ragged edge of the New World, of course. But affection? Commitment? Love?
So late this afternoon, years later, almost at the end of another bright, unsoulful afternoon in the megalopolis, I find myself driving alone on Mulholland, when I suddenly remember that night in Dublin.
It's just before Valentine's day, and I think, surely I should give it a try.
So I pull over, I slam the door, I go stand at the edge of the chapparal, and I begin to recall past and present romance in the sprawl.
Far below, I picture the dignity of thin joggers in pink warmup suits on the quiet evening streets of Beverly Hills. I imagine the bluster of men wearing white t-shirts along Hollywood Boulevard. I recall the noisy Hong Kong twilight in San Gabriel where the stacked Chinese shopping malls are turning on their neon lights. I trace the long boulevards of displaced persons leading inevitably toward the sea. I consider the late sunlight cutting a line of fire along the windshields of cars on the 10. I remember driving up here with my wife, just last year.
In short, I try to be an Angeleno in the same way a Dubliner is a Dubliner. I try to "own" my town. In fact, on behalf of 16 million urban men and women, I try to say the words the city wants to hear, and say it in a local accent, with our long, drawn-out syllables: "Don't ya love this city? Hey, confess it to me, man: Is L.A. not the greatest city on earth?"
And for a moment, as lights come up across the dusty basin, and without the help of alcohol or loud music, I swear the Urban Man does feel his heart leap just a little. Really. I swear it.
For KCRW, I'm Marc Porter Zasada. Happy Valentine's Day.
Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. Portions of this essay previously appeared in the Los Angeles Downtown News.
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