26 July 2009
Men that strove with Gods.
Spend enough time in Los Angeles, in my case 15 years this August, and you will see many things. If you are smart, or clever, or beautiful, or cunning, or cruel, this great city has much to offer. It is also, for that same reason, treacherous.
I went to an amazing pool party today. It was in a beautiful house overlooking the city, with a beautiful pool filled with beautiful men. So much to look upon and to behold and to desire. Driving down the hill, back to the quiet murmur of my apartment (the neighbors, the traffic on Sunset, the hum of summer air conditioners in the courtyard, the distant drone of a helicopter), I was thinking about a guy I met just before I left the party--one that stopped me short, as if I were stunned, and transfixed me with his eyes as he spoke. I am rarely speechless. I am rarely stunned. I was both with this one.
But this is not his story. This story is for you, Dear Reader. And long waited for. I began to think on that winding, canyon road about the uniqueness of this city. I thought of Elk Grove, where I spent my childhood, so far away from here--further in culture and spirit than in miles--and I tried to imagine how I might explain how I see this city after 15 years. (It's not fair to say I grew up in Elk Grove. I did not. I spent my childhood there. No, as you will see, I have grown up in Los Angeles.)
Summer in Los Angeles: So much beauty, and so much wealth, that it distorts the world around it. If you have never been to a pool party at a Hollywood home, populated with the most beautiful specimens you have ever seen, you might not catch the subtlety of what I'm describing.
Imagine for a moment a world where only models get noticed--for the standard of beauty is so high that only models stand out against the general backdrop of generally handsome people (Sable Crow?). Imagine for a moment a world where only the very wealthiest are seen--for there is so much wealth that making a good living (more than enough to care for a family, let alone a couple) pales in comparison to multimillion dollar homes and their attendant vacations, and lifestyles, and accountrements. Imagine for a moment a world where only the most famous names are remembered--for there are so many directors, actors, visionaries, celebrities, and heirs that the accomplishments of a simple life are outshined by names writ in lights on a screen, five feet long and luminous. And finally, imagine a world where all of these compete for attention, and where there is no convenient class structure to keep everyone in their place.
I have seen more of wealth and beauty and power than most will ever see in their lifetimes. I have seen more of greed and love and salvation and need than I can describe. I have driven in a shiny black convertible past homeless people suffling down sidewalks. I have helped to save lives. I have watched friends die--sometimes quick, and sometimes slow. I am 31. I have bummed cigarettes off famous people, not because I smoke, but because it's what you DO when they offer and smile. I have strolled the halls of mansions worth tens (once, one-hundred!) million dollars. I have shared dinner and a show with models so handsome that their beauty is like a sun, which casts the flattering light of a promise: you can have this, too.
To navigate such waters as these, around such deep and tempting pools, is a practise no less difficult than yoga--no less challenging. To be so close to wealth and beauty and power--to have it at your fingertips...so close...can be maddening. Few survive this town. I mean really survive. Most are drawn in like moths and scorched and sent back whence they came: to Idaho, or Israel, or El Paso or Elk Grove. Some perish into drugs or sex or greed.
If you close your eyes at one of these parties, at one of these houses, filled with hundreds of these people, you can almost feel the patterns of distortion around you: the charisma of that star, the seduction of that mansion, the gravity of that producer. It is a social topography that is invisible to most people: peaks, valleys, crags, and sometimes endless plains.
Perhaps you'll be surprised to hear that I've been very happy lately. Work is good, and safe, and rewarding. I am careful not to say that: both because I am fearful that it will end, and also because I am fearful of the jealousy and resentment of others. It's so much more acceptible in this town (in this age of ours?) to say that we are miserable. It's so much easier to say to someone, "I really hate my job; I can't stand my marriage; I resent my house," than to say, "I'm really happy, and content. How are you?" It can be a social affront. So I am careful, Dear Reader, after all these years of depression, not to come off as TOO happy now. Not TOO satisfied. Never that. Not here. Not in Los Angeles.
It is this topography I describe that makes Los Angeles a hard place to find and keep love. For love, too, like money and beauty and power, is subject to the covetousness of others. It is buffeted by temptation and cruelty and betrayal. It is also difficult to spot: for rest assured that there is always some else coming through that door who may be a better partner (richer? more beautiful? more emotionally mature? a bigger dick? better able to understand me? more giving? less needy? Sure. All of these things. Just watch the door...)
It is hard soil, this City of Angels, for love to grow. I have been here since I was 16. The spirit of this city--for good or ill--is imbued into me. The ambition, the desire, the grace, the sorrow, the triumph, and the failure. I am a creature of these pools and decks and suntans and conversations and cocktails.
Dear Reader, I am reminded of an episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie calls a veterinary clinic abutting her apartment to compain about roosters, rescued from Bronx cock fights. When it's offered to put them in the basement, she hesitates. "Don't worry" the vet assures her, "they have very good lives."
Don't take my writings as an indication that hope is lost, or that love is forsaken. Neither of these is true. For if Los Angeles is anything, it is a city of dreams. It is a city where anything is possible: where a kid from Elk Grove can have, for just a moment, maybe for a lifetime?, a taste of a life belonging to his betters--and never know that they are any different than he. It is a city where the wildest dreams are fulfilled in an instant, just as the simplest of dreams may never see the light of dawn. For to be a city of broken dreams, you must first be a city of dreams. To even think these thoughts, to have the time to write them--as I do now, tanned and shirtless in my cool apartment--one must already be living a good life.
Dear Reader, this rooster--this crow you are coming to know--has a very good life.
And this beauty I met poolside? This was tattooed down the side of his body, from a few inches under his armpit down along his beautiful side and vanishing into his low-slung swimsuit. We are angels, all.
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,-- cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor'd of them all,--
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me,--
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,-- you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Ulysses - Alfred Tennyson