The Middle Ages: The paradox of a perfect place that seems coated in kerosene

A land of perfect weather, California boasts a relentless sun that burnishes our dispositions and crisps the land.
A land of perfect weather, California boasts a relentless sun that burnishes our dispositions and crisps the land.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP /Getty Images)

The sun comes up big and orange, like a harvest moon. The angry grit from the recent fires sends bloody beams of sunlight through the oaks and the chaparral. I can hardly sleep lately, for a variety of reasons, but if I could sleep, this alone would keep me up.

What a place to put a state.

Even when the fires are out, it’s orange here in the fall and winter … the rusty sunrises, the cherry pie sunsets. In between, the air tastes like sour milk.

The Great American Novel, the one they say ain’t been writ, will probably be set here in California one day. We live in a place that is complex and elegant, simple and casual; it smells of sage, campfires and cowboys, with traces of curry powder and tequila.


Sometimes California feels like a dirty trick. A land of perfect weather, it boasts a relentless sun that burnishes our dispositions and crisps the land. Before you know it, it’s all on fire again.

Nearby, the world’s deepest ocean glistens like a giant martini. All that fire, all that surf. If only we could introduce them. If only they could “meet cute.”

Yeah, California is a feverish, maddening, magnificent piece of property. I can’t think of a more interesting place, but then I don’t travel much anymore, content to wander the local canyons and noodle emporiums in search of surprise.

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Plus, I can’t get out of LAX.

Trust me, I try and try. At LAX, one line leads to another, which leads to an exit or a checkpoint lined with dogs. Eventually, I just give up, which is what I think they want us to do. LAX is not so much an airport as it is some sort of loyalty test, and a metaphor for a city that’s outgrown its own shoes.

So here I sit, waiting for others to come to me, to move here from the East and Midwest, and all over the globe really. L.A. is — like so many movie heroes — a shimmering mirage. L.A. is their harvest moon.

We are paradise the way Sophocles would write it. Paradise with issues.


And despite it all, newcomers keep arriving. Despite the fact that everything is overpriced, and you’ll never afford two bedrooms, two baths. Even if you did, you would never make it home. The freeway system resembles a giant skeleton, for it’s a mode of transportation that’s mostly dead.

Don’t worry, Musk is building tunnels, did you hear? And sometime in the next 500 years, we’ll have that high-speed train up and running. It is being built by the same sort of dreamers and schemers who gave us LAX, so I predict only good things.

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A deeper reason for this semi-rant is that the younger daughter moved out the other day, the one with the horse-tail hair. Rapunzel’s college boyfriend is moving here — ha, snagged another one! And the two of them are setting up house on the Westside, which is an excellent and affordable place to begin a long life together.


The Westside is L.A.’s Manhattan, in that it draws the urban sophisticates who insist they could never live anywhere else.

I like the Westsiders, for they are excellent newspaper readers and — almost as important — interesting souls.

Did a little gig at one of the giant libraries out there recently — you know, a meet-and-greet where I get to know the neighbors 20 miles across town. Swear, I’ve spoken at every library and laundromat in L.A. lately, just trying to get to know the locals a little bit.

Before I knew it, I’d hit rock bottom: Santa Monica, where the 85-year-olds look 30 and the 30-year-olds look 10. It is America’s fountain of goof.


(All kidding aside, I adore Santa Monica. It’s where both daughters now live, and if you see two gingers screaming at each other on the sidewalk, it’s probably them. Say hello for me.)

At the main Santa Monica Library the other day, the locals and I chatted about the paradox of a paradise that seems coated in kerosene. No one voiced any interest in moving away, probably for fear of LAX but also because, for all its flaws, California is such a remarkable place to live and love.

Besides, they were typical Westsiders, joyous at having found a parking space and quick to share their own stories and hear all about mine.

“How can you be so funny,” one gentleman wondered, “when you’re not even Jewish?”


“I’m not?”

OK, guess I’m not.

Seriously, you think it’s easy?


Twitter: @erskinetimes