..[Los Angeles without a car, work permit or superpowers]

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Avocado Thieves

On the corner of Military Avenue, a bald man is kneeling on someone's lime-green lawn. He's holding a flower.

- Hello,

I say, on my way to the Westside Pavilion. He nods. His feet are tucked very neatly under him; for a moment I wonder if he's meditating, but there's a shopping trolley full of old Fanta bottles nearby. Beyond, a sign on someone's wall tells us that


which only makes me look at the tree above -- avocados. I steal none. At Barnes and Noble, I buy 'The Hollywood Economist'.

- Your accent makes me homesick. I was born in Britain.

says the girl at the till. I ask her where, because she sounds entirely American; I don't tell her that, though, because these things are complicated.

- London, she says. And I went to school in Marylebone.

I smile because I can't think of anything to say. I can't even spell Marylebone, and, like most other London names, it only reminds me of the Monopoly board. I grew up four or five hours away from the city, in the rural south west of England.

London? We went there a couple of times, usually on the coach, for West End shows (with the entire PTA: group discount, safety in numbers) and important birthdays. Always an expedition. 

Tableau of country mice in the city: my mother is holding her handbag with an iron grip , muttering prayers to Our Lady of Moral Order (Maggie Thatcher) and pretending not to notice tramps; my father is studying the Underground map; I am crying because it's my eighth birthday and I was promised a knickerbocker glory ice cream sundae. They make them in the village, but I want a London knickerbocker glory, and god damn it if we can find one. Then a punk spits chewing gum in my hair -- 1988, final years of the punk reich -- and that shuts me right up. Happy days.

Back here on the Westside, I walk around the shopping mall trying to find a bikini, but am disheartened when all the price tags indicate high and arbitrary numbers: $93.42 for the top, $88.57 for the bottom. I exit through the car park, the design of which does not cater for pedestrians and so obliges me to weave around dumpsters and climb over some bushes. I notice someone's convertible, with the bumper sticker


and yet successfully resist the urge to vandalize. 

(People from small villages rarely become vandals, or punks, no matter where they end up.)

I walk back to our apartment. It's that crushingly gorgeous late afternoon LA light: pouring from a cerulean sky, bleaching whites whiter than white, softening the long palm tree shadows, the pastel bungalows, the pile of rotting blankets and scattered trash by the 405 underpass. Ridiculous beauty and squalor all together. 

At the apartment building, they're watering the flowerbeds, and the fine vapour and smell of warm earth make it feel like a rainforest. Or some other exotic foreign clime. Now I want to go back to Barnes and Noble and tell the cashier she's made me homesick, too -- but, of course, it's nothing that simple.

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