The Good Life
It is a well-known quality of happiness -- and of health and of good fortune and of youth -- to be better remembered in its absence than appreciated in its time. The shining sun, the roses you forgot to stop and smell, a car that runs, money in the bank, the glow of downy unlined adolescent skin, the thoughtless peace of mind enjoyed by a people for whom the roiling world is but a rumor -- these are the things you notice when they are no longer yours to enjoy. You don't know what you've got till it's gone, quoth the poet, and this is not merely true, it is continually true: Even the parking lot paved over paradise will look good to you once something worse is erected in its place.
Remember the parking lot?
Yeah -- that was a great parking lot.
The point being that even as the world endlessly degrades, it is always, relatively speaking, good.
The present edition of this handsome annual keepsake issue was almost entirely written, edited and photographed prior to the events of September 11. On the one hand, you can read it as a kind of time machine, a last dispatch from the days before you were required to imagine your neighborhood as a battlefield, before the noise of an airplane made you start, before funny smells got you pricing gas masks. On the other hand, though there were more people in it (and fewer American flags), the world was not substantially a different, nor a less dangerous place on September 10. Everything that was true then is true now. What has changed is what we are conscious of, and what we miss is the bliss of unconsciousness. We want yesterday back, when we didn't have to know, or care, or smell the roses, because they'd be there tomorrow and so would we.
But consciousness is what you have. It's your human burden and your way out of the rubble. And you have a choice: You can listen to the devil on your left shoulder or the angel on your right, to the nattering television or the singing birds. This is not denial; it's taking the world for what it is. It's cultivating an attitude of thoughtful enjoyment in the face of ruin. "It's all right to have a good time," sang Curtis Mayfield. "It's all right." Consider this issue a handbook of appreciation, an anthology of focused attention: a frame through which to view the city and see it for the wonderland it is.
Like any big thing -- I was going to write target -- Los Angeles takes a lot of knocks. And there is at least a kernel of truth in every bad thing said about it. Any reasonable person knows that in a hundred, a thousand ways the city sucks. But the whole world's a mess, and for one good reason or another, you have decided to live in this bit of it.
Even before the latest death of irony was announced -- and announced, and announced -- this issue was designed to be sincere and celebratory, was made in its modest way to snatch the city back from the sour satirists, the merchants of noir, the pulp-fictional fabulists who represent Los Angeles to the world as a capital of desperate living and broken dreams. It is intended a s a counterweight to the literature of earthquake weather, junkie rock stars, quack religionists, corrupt policeman, idiot starlets and the masses of the doomed; it posits this as a city of light and leisure, of possibility and improvisation and ethereal pleasure. Much of what makes L.A. L.A. is abstract, elemental, ephemeral: a matter of space, air, light, water, action, time. This is a city whose best feature is perhaps its very lack of definition; it does not oppress its citizens with a civic identity. Los Angeles lets you alone, and in letting you alone forces you to consider who you really are, or want to be -- or allows you not to consider it at all.
So: Here you are. Whatever else is going on in your life, whatever else has happened in the world we share between the time I write these words and the time you read them, you are at this moment alive and literate -- it's a start. The sun came up today; those roses are still there to smell, and still smell as sweet.
Welcome to the Best of L.A.
Editor, Best of L.A. 2001