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They Hate It Here

Approximately 20 million tourists visit Los Angeles every summer. They come from Japan, England, New York (though grudgingly), Botswana, Dallas, Denver and Pottawatomie, Kan.

Nothing stops them. Not heat, smog, gang violence, traffic congestion, sin or Beverly Hills drivers.

In 1987, the year of our random freeway shootings, the number of tourists rose slightly, despite worldwide notoriety to the effect that it was probably safer to drive a Mercedes through Lebanon than a pickup through L.A.

Theirs was the tenacity of lemmings marching to the sea or salmon struggling upstream, heeding a call as mystic as moonrise to go to the place where the glory is, notwithstanding advice to the contrary.

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I mention this not to discourage tourism, but to recognize it.

Visitors to L.A. each spend an average of $39.50 a day, and while it is difficult to accept money from someone dressed in red shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, we have to realize that the cultural traits of Pottawatomie are not as refined as they are elsewhere.

Their dimes and dollars, tucked into sow belly purses, keep us fat and sleek and able to indulge our most bizarre fantasies. I therefore encourage their visits to what Aldous Huxley called “the city of dreadful joy.”

Just keep Horace Black away.

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Horace in real life is what John Candy was in the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” but with a less positive attitude. As such, he represents a percentage of those who travel each summer to L.A.

And they hate it here.

Candy, you might recall, played the role of a big, bombastic, loving, boring leech of a man who attached himself to Steve Martin through an odyssey of travail that would tax the patience of a nun.

Horace is also big, bombastic and boring, though totally bereft of the redeeming qualities that made Candy’s character at least tolerable.

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Horace is not his real name, though he is as real as the guy who steps off a Greyhound bus and bulldozes his way to the head of every line, knocking children and old ladies aside like saplings in a storm.

Only the laws of defamation rein in my inclination to shout his true identity from the rooftops and warn that the man is in town from Pottawatomie and ought to be avoided.

To begin with, Horace suffers from periodic attacks of trench mouth. It is not, as you might expect, a term that relates to the size of the man’s oral cavity but to sores caused by bacteria.

No one has trench mouth anymore, except Horace. It went out with impetigo and ringworms, which were also afflictions of the past having to do, I believe, with filth and ignorance.

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Horace announced his ailment loudly in Venice’s lovely Casablanca Restaurant and, to illustrate, opened his mouth so that all might view the ulcerations.

That we were not instantly thrown into the street is a display of indulgence equaled only by that of a loving mother with a psychopathic child.

That single incident somehow typified the substance of Horace’s visit. It was downhill all the way.

He arrived at 8 o’clock in the morning and managed within the first 15 minutes to turn my own amiable spirit of forbearance into outright loathing.

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Horace criticized my weight, my shirt, my shoes and my haircut, insulted a coffee shop waitress and cursed Jack Nicholson as we passed a street-location filming in Hollywood.

There are tourists who would give their lives to see Nicholson in the flesh, but Horace was only annoyed because traffic was delayed during the shooting and he felt Nicholson ought to be aware of that.

Throughout the entire day, from a Universal Studios tour to a theatrical production on the Westside, Horace complained.

There was nothing about the place he liked. I have been to countries in the world where the natives expressed a similar distaste for Los Angeles, but at least they had the good sense to stay home.

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Horace, a distant acquaintance, lacks even that remote quality and visits when he can, like a random plague that leaves rage and anguish in its wake.

After listening to him tell me how he hated our brown hills, our new architecture, our churches, our puppy dogs and our very existence, I’d had enough.

I wrote Horace a check for $39.50, which represented what I would have spent as an acting tourist in the remaining day of Horace’s vacation, and told him to hate his activities in good health, but without me.

I like wandering the city of dreadful joy, but I couldn’t take anymore of Horace. And to hell with Pottawatomie, too.

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