25.8.21

Everything I Know About Los Angeles

 

BY ELIZABETH BARKER

For my 18th anniversary of living in Los Angeles I made a big list of all the L.A. things that mean a lot to me: some are memories and some are observations and some is just trash talk; all are little love stories about this place whose real name is El Pueblo de Nuestra Se├▒ora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula. At one point the list was 77 items long, because of The Clash, and there was stuff about the candy selection at Laurel Canyon Country Store and Kim Gordon's Black Flag earrings and the time I celeb-spotted Miss Piggy and Kermit shooting a scene in front of the Wiltern - but in the end I decided to keep it to the essential. Also: I don't know who painted that painting up above (it's hanging at El Compadre in Echo Park), but I'm so taken with the streak of pink along the mountains and the hazy glow of all the headlights pointed south. Making the freeway beautiful is a delicate and crucial art.  

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1. The dining room with the happiest vibes in all of L.A. is at Patra in Echo Park, where my favorite menu items include the patty melt, chorizo & egg burrito, and cake cone of strawberry ice cream. I'd also like to thank Patra for teaching me that a diagonal cut fried-egg sandwich on toasted white bread with lettuce and mayo is one of the best things this life has to offer.

2. I first moved here around the time Brown Bunny came out, and for a while there was a giant billboard of the blowjob scene right outside Chateau Marmont. On the one hand it made me feel like Lili Taylor on Six Feet Under, the part where she tells Nate Fisher: "L.A. is such a godless place." On the other hand I thought it was so exciting to live somewhere godless. For my 20th L.A. anniversary I'm totally buying myself this beautiful Conrad Haberland painting:

















3. Forever grateful to Francesca Lia Block for writing about Oki Dog in the Weetzie books, so that now the sight of the swoopy/show-offy cursive on the Oki Dog menu makes everything a fairy tale:

4. Durga Chew-Bose has a line about how her favorite time of day is "when the waitress starts coming around with her tray of votive candles," which I think of anytime I'm walking down Echo Park Ave at dusk and there's multiple skater boys skating by with their just-purchased boxes of Little Caesars. That is my favorite time, more elegant and dazzling than ballet. 

5. People who say no one walks in L.A. have either never been to L.A. or don't understand their own city.

6. L.A. nature is my favorite nature because sometimes birds of paradise look like sucking a grape-flavored Super Blow Pop and drinking a Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi at the same time, with a tube of Vamp It Up Wet N Wild in the front pocket of your jeans. 


7. When you're walking around in the morning in spring, the jasmine smells just like Froot Loops.

8. I could never name the single most beautiful place in Los Angeles, but to me the bakery case at Canter's is easily top ten. I can never stop taking pictures of the banana cake with the cursive on top, the way none of us can ever stop taking pictures of sunsets. 

9. If the 10 Freeway westbound on a smoggy Friday night in late summer were a sound, it would be the creepy-snaky lead riff to "Kettle Whistle" by Jane's Addiction. And if L.A. were a boy, it would be baby Dave Navarro drinking a Slurpee & smoking a cigarette, his nails painted with chipped polish and a cool rip in the knee of his tights.


10. Two of the best days of my life were the time I went to Flea's house and the other time I went to Flea's house. It was March 2007 and the first visit was a Sunday afternoon and I spent a lot of the day on the beach, taking pictures of starfish and sea anemones. It was a breakthrough moment for me as far as becoming eternally obsessed with Malibu, and with sea anemones. You should go to El Matador at least once a year to hang out with the tidepools and caves.

11. It takes exactly the length of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus to drive Mulholland from Laurel Canyon to the 101. 

12. If you pull off Mulholland at that sightseeing spot a little west of Runyon, there's a cool view of the Hollywood Bowl and you can stand there and think of The Beatles in 1965, The Doors in 1968, the Go-Go's in 1982. The last time I went to the Bowl was for Lana Del Rey in fall 2019 and at one point I was in the bathroom and this girl went into a stall and then yelled: "I just got my period! LANA MADE ME BLEED." There was a big hullabaloo about how none of her friends had a tampon or change for the dispenser so then I went and bought her one, because that's just what you do. Later on there was the most glorious fireworks display during the encore performance of "Venice Bitch." 

13. RIP IN PARADISE HOUSE OF SPIRITS, my fave liquor store where I once bought a bottle of banana schnapps that I never pulled the trigger on. There was always a box of De La Rosa peanut mazapan by the register, and the neon was so legendary. It burned down the day we found out Lana Del Rey bought a house one street over from ours.


























14. And RIP La Espiga, the bakery near my first L.A. apartment. There was a rooster who'd pace around out front and a massive industrial fan that'd blow crazy gusts of cake-scented air out onto the street. They made dulce de leche empanadas, and these chocolate-strawberry-vanilla cookies dusted in sugar. La Espiga taught me that Neapolitan isn't a flavor, it's a state of mind.


15. Before Echo Park Lake was cursed and the paddleboats turned into swans it used to one of my favorite places, especially on Sunday afternoons around dusk when the sky's hot-pink and makes the lake pink too. Bring back Mike D's paddleboats please!

16. Some of the best art in L.A. happens when fallen blossoms collide with crumpled-up trash that's aesthetically/vibrationally appealing. I've had this pic saved on my phone for so long; I want to make a zine again so it can be the cover:



17. So here's a tiny rant: my general take on everything is that if you don't love L.A., L.A. will never love you back. But I also love it when people recognize they're incapable of loving L.A., then gracefully remove themselves from the situation (like how on the new Lorde record she makes it clear she's done with Los Angeles - I love that journey for her; I want everyone to live their truth). What I'm not into is people who move here from certain other cities but still harbor a knee-jerk antipathy to Los Angeles, some presumption of being above it all, and then limit their experience to drinking at terminally boring wine bars and dining at what Max Silvestri refers to as "those weird fake-hip white-people sort-of-fancy-kind-of-not restaurants that we all go to and forget five seconds after."* I mean the people who say things like "I don't go west of La Brea" and mistake that for being so discerning and refined, or the type of person who takes a Milkfarm picnic basket to the Bowl to see a band they discovered on Morning Becomes Eclectic but then spends the whole night loudly talking about Silver Lake real estate. Lack of curiosity is toxic. 

Anyway - I like this line from the introduction Molly Lambert wrote for that Eve Babitz collection, I Used to Be Charming: "People still ask how we can stand to live in LA, although they tend to do it months before they themselves move here and decide they invented it." BOOM

(*From his "2 Dope Queens" episode; the bit starts at the 42:58 mark. I think a lot about the $200 pork chop)

18. I love when it's the draggiest gray all day and then the sun comes out right before dusk and gives you the most ravishing and emotionally manipulative magic hour you've ever seen.


But it's also nice when the gray hangs around for magic hour and everything's all muted and fuzzed. Now that I've been in L.A. all these years I'm starting to appreciate understated scenes like this one:

19. Sometimes I used to go up to Topanga to do work/writing at Cafe Mimosa and eavesdrop on all the Topanga weirdos. The muffins were tragic but the eavesdropping was so good, like this one time I was sitting next to a handsome man whose look was very "dandy surfer" and the dude said to his friend: "When I first sort of ran away from everything, I went to Venice Beach and fell in with this very cool cat, a gay English batik-maker." I think it's fun when people speak like quintessentially Californian space cadets. I think this tweet is pedestrian and uncouth.

20. I love this semi-recent video of Courtney Love talking about perfume, where she says the words "sexy croissant" and also: "I think we can be gothic and bookish at the same time - like a gothic slut, but also lost in a fantastic library full of thousand-year-old books, but also at the Chateau Marmont, and also right after really good sex, and also driving down the PCH."

21. Speaking of poetry: one time I was at The Iliad in North Hollywood and haphazardly pulled a 1988 issue of the Paris Review off the shelf and opened it to "The Bed" by Catherine Bowman, and now Catherine Bowman is my favorite poet. The Iliad is a wonderland.

22. Jacaranda + June gloom is also a kind of poem: 


23. Wait I have more to say about the walking thing (!!!!). If you're the type of person who walks in L.A., you can do that thing of waiting till close to sundown on a hot summer night, then walking down to the nearest taco truck listening to good hot-night music, then buying yourself a big icy cup of horchata for sipping on the way back. Somehow the first Pavement record works perfect for this.

24. If you've got a crush on someone a cute move is to go down to the arcade at Santa Monica Pier and play a few games of skee-ball and take a pic of your highest score and text it to the person. And then you give away all your tickets to some kid, and then go take pictures of the neon of the ferris wheel reflecting onto the ocean, or the waves & the smog & the beach people at night


25. When you come from somewhere else, hearing "Johny Hit & Run Paulene" in L.A. for the first time is another form of virginity-losing. 

26. Like Pee-wee married a bowl of fruit salad, I would like to marry the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

27. I haven't been to The Smell in 500 years and maybe I'll never go again, but I loved taking a break and going to the gay bar next door, El Jalisco, where they gave everyone little snack bowls full of Fritos doused in hot sauce. The day No Age shot the cover for Weirdo Rippers, a dude from the bar came out and gave us all free Jello shots at like 10 in the morning. I am a pigtailed brunette in the photo

28. Apart from hot-saucy Fritos and Jello shots, some of my favorite things I've ever eaten in L.A. include: spicy sea snails from Dan Sung Sa, laksa from the Singaporean place at Farmers Market, Canter's chocolate rugelach, papaya wings from Jitlada, everything else I've ever had from Jitlada, the Reese's donut at California Donuts, pineapple empanadas at Cuscatleca, fried chicken from the gas station, Zankou pickles, a foil takeout container of spaghetti & sausage from the real Pizza Buona, mole negro at Guelaguetza, sesame hash browns at Patrick's Roadhouse, a beer + a boat of french fries at Neptune's Net, white chocolate princess cake from Bottega Louie, and the incomparable beauty of a huge-ass coffee + chocolate coconut donut at Ms. Donut in Echo Park:


29. Really, sometimes all I need to make everything ok is a meal eaten from a coconut in a Thai restaurant in a strip mall. I deeply miss the Coconut Paradise at the no-longer-with-us Sib Song, where they'd stick a cocktail umbrella into the top of your coconut.


30. I also miss the original Scoops location (Heliotrope & Melrose) and the blackboard where you could write your flavor suggestions. The Apple Jacks suggestion is so inspired. What the hell kind of lunatic wants French bread gelato :/

31. Beyond having a favorite restaurant and donut shop and taco stand in Los Angeles, it's important to have a favorite freeway exit, incense vendor, pier, bougainvillea blob, star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. My favorite star is David Bowie's; I went for the first time the morning after he died, and someone had left him red peppers & milk.

32. Sometimes if I feel a little disenchanted, I remember the time my friend saw a deer run through the crosswalk in the middle of Hollywood, or the time another friend Insta'd a dude on horseback galloping full speed past a Taco Bell in the Valley: it always puts my head back on straight. And if you ever need a little thrill, I'd suggest driving down Lankershim a little after twilight and hanging around outside the motel with the horse on the roof. 













33. Along with Dave Navarro & his Slurpee, one person who fully embodies the spirit of L.A. for me is Christine McVie drinking a glass of white wine on the field at Dodger Stadium in the video for "Tusk":

34. Over the course of making this post I've started questioning why I'm such a manic proponent of walking in L.A., and I think it's got to do with the experience of deliberate and pleasurable solitude. People who moved here from New York are always giving you that line about how in New York you just walk down the street and run into a friend or somebody you've got the hots for, and then you duck into a bar and end up spending the whole night there and it's such wild serendipitous fun. Which truly sounds wonderful and always makes me envious, but that's not what walking in L.A. does for you. For the most part walking in L.A. means being on your own, and if you work it just right it can ease you into a state of heightened attention and sustained fascination. Your brain shuts off a little and you just zone out on the juxtaposition of neon and sky, the coconuts and churros and avocados and mangos for sale on the sidewalk, the crazy perfume of jasmine and gasoline and al pastor roasting on the big spit with the pineapple on top. It's a state in which it's spiritually incorrect to listen to a podcast, and I value that more and more all the time. I want my head full of flowers not takes.

35. My all-time fave song with L.A. in the title is "L.A. Mist" by The Sharp Ease. Lately my favorite L.A. music is "Heavy Metal" by Paris Texas, who are from Compton. Part of the reason it feels like L.A. is it never stops surprising me, I never get used to it, it always manages to rattle and delight me in equal measure.

36. This is a playlist of other songs that feel like Los Angeles to me. But it doesn't include the song that feels most like L.A.-like, which is Iggy Pop and David Bowie doing "Funtime" on The Dinah Shore Show in 1977. I love how it obliterates any of the slickness of the original and takes on this off-the-rails energy that's kind of dopey and galumphing but still so glamorous. It makes me want to write a story where at the beginning the main character says "Hey I feel lucky tonight, I'm gonna get stoned and run around" and absolutely means it.