About five years ago I attended the wedding of a friend of mine from college. Among those at the reception was a guy who’d graduated a few classes ahead of me, someone I’d always found a little churlish. Talk turned to politics, and inevitably, to 9/11. The only New Yorker at our table, I found myself repeating, for the umpteenth time, the story of my 9/11, waking up to find that the screen of the TV I’d left on had turned blue, trying and failing to dial out on my cell phone; climbing up to my roof just in time to see the first tower fall. There’s more to it than that, but Mr. Churlish, as I’ll call him, interrupted me.
“You know what I wish? I wish that guy who was trying to take out LAX on the 2000 New Year, I really wish he’d gotten through and done it.”
Silence all around, as you’d imagine. Mr. Churlish was not, as a matter of fact, some washed-up actor or screenwriter with malice toward Hollywood; he was and remains a very successful lawyer in Chicago. His logic, as I recall, was that New Yorkers already thought too much of themselves, and the fact that the great turning point day in modern American history had happened in New York, or at least most memorably in New York, well, that had made all of us there to witness the destruction insufferable jackasses. He described me as having a “martyred attitude.” At least, he went on, if the big ka-boom had happened in L.A., New Yorkers would be forced to recognize that we weren’t that effing special.
Here’s the thing: People who live in New York are special. We live in tiny apartments for which we pay too much money, stand cheek-by-jowl with strangers on the rush hour subways, and work 16 hour days trying to conquer a city that punishes failure more than any other. If you can make it there, sure, you can make it anywhere. But more to the point, if you can’t make it, you have to leave. New York is a tough town, and that makes New Yorkers a tough breed, and I respect that toughness; I consider it inseparable from the spectral romance of the place.
Nevertheless, I am moving to L.A. Or maybe not. I’ve been saying that I’m moving for so long, my friends have stopped taking the threat seriously. In the past, I’d lay out my case – about sunshine, and the abundance of film work, and having time and space and money to write, and they’d plead, no, no, don’t go to Los Angeles, it’s soulless, everyone you care about is here, you’d need a car… The part about the car, that’s true. But I like L.A. More and more, the city exerts a hold on my imagination; the plane bends toward the runway, and I see the miles of light stretching out in every direction, to the edges of the world, and I am swamped by a welcome sense of venturing into terra incognita. I haven’t felt like a pioneer in New York in a while, and I do feel like one in Los Angeles, disoriented and therefore sharper than usual, enjoying the tremblings of accomplishment coming over me every time I get where I’m going. And on the other hand, there are at this point many people who live in Los Angeles that I miss when I’m away. There are places I’ve made familiar, and off-the-beaten-path discoveries I like to think of as my own. It almost feels like home. Yet the idea of L.A., of moving there, is so bound up with the idea of failing in New York that even I barely take myself seriously when I think about leaving.
I’m off to L.A. again this week, for my own purposes and for the series of photo ops that Los Angeles Fashion Week has once again become. There’s an exhibit at the Getty I’m looking forward to, two or three shops I’ve come to rely on for my summer closet, a day planned in Malibu, and a list of CDs to find at Amoeba. I have scheduled my L.A. friends into every square inch of my calendar. But what’s really on my agenda is this decision: Do I stay, or do I go? The New York partisan in me suspects the answer will be, as usual: Eventually, once I’ve made it here, in New York, at the center of everything.This week, BurdaStyle goes L.A. native.