Los Angeles, California
Monday, June 4th, 2007 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/stars-stripes-and-superlatives
or me personally, being here in the United States is enough of a big deal so that every intake of breath while looking at things is a privilege. But I’m staying in a place where that is a bit of an effort: the heart of downtown Los Angeles. As you walk the streets, I’d say 1/3 of the time you are assaulted with the smell of urine. You don’t think you’d miss the chain stores until you are in a place that they view as too poor to invest in. People roam the streets with shopping carts, as supplied for the homeless, so their labels say. We watched Shaun of the Dead and downstairs here kind of echoes that zombie shuffle, mixed in with some Tourettic tic tics (tock).
Nonetheless, arriving here in Los Angeles I was bombarded with superlatives. When people do something here they do it obsessively, which is the only way really to “come to something”. Daniel now has a place big enough to store his vinyl collection and we perused it upon my arrival. The shelves are squares, each one being a genre of sorts. Musicological recordings of anthropological interest. Sun Ra. Miles. 20th century classical. There’s one from Iraq with a large portrait of Saddam Hussein on the inside cover. Sound effect libraries. Specialty labels.
The Bikram Yoga school: how superlative that is. It has a laundry at the back, and you can use as many towels as you need. It always smells fresh in the studio, despite the sweat people drop into the carpet. The instructor we had was Juan, one of the few times I’ve had a male one, and he was a powerhouse, slipping in wit and wisdom that only come with struggle and strength. Daniel told me he’s a former pastry chef from Barcelona. There is something so special about the Bikram College of India world headquarters. First, it’s so unassuming. Although downtown has grand buildings with carved stone, Los Angeles seemed to follow the post-WWII movement of plainness, and a dynamic beneficial human movement like Bikram Choudhury’s yoga is headquartered in a completely nondescript strip-mall building, its signage as plain as that of an oil change shop. Inside, it’s so spacious. It’s being constantly looked after with cleaning and laundry staff as well as someone at the desk and the instructor. The unisex steam room is heated with eucalyptus and set so hot and steamy that you can barely see anyone else in there, and if you move too rapidly you could scald your skin. Because it’s so hot you’ve no choice but to breath slowly or else you’ll scald your insides.
And we’re watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, set here in and around town, about the foibles of a man, Larry David himself, who demonstrates that even once you’re superlatively successful beyond what most people can even imagine, you remain your klutzy self.
Now tonight I met Jason, a web developer who’s building new things with an instinctive eye to processing efficiency and elegance, not just getting the thing to work. He’s got so many cutting-edge things wrapped in there — I feel in comparison mired in retardation.
And yet the superlatives are all mixed in with the most ravaging mediocrity. That’s part of the magic here. I thought the food in Britain was somewhat lackluster; it’s worse here. Every breakfast so far has been lousy. Well, not entirely — the pancakes have been tasty, though pancakes for breakfast really isn’t my thing — but I believe I’ve fallen out of love with the diner. They can’t fry an egg here properly; the white around the yolk is never fully cooked, so it’s still liquid. As for poaching an egg, I don’t think they’d even consider trying that, though next time I’ll ask. Britain does breakfast much better.
That said, the ethnic restaurants around here are truly the real shebang, not thematic affairs dreamed up to satisfy the Caucasian punters’ quest for something novel. We went to Soot Bull Jeep tonight, a Korean restaurant, by and for Koreans. The previous night we went to a Vietnamese place that was also great. Very plain and unpretentious. Every restaurant seems to be brown, with brown imitation-wood formaica surfaces. Around the corner from Daniel’s place is the bizarre Cliftons Cafeteria. That’s brown as well.
How I love the street signs, how they simplify and clarify things. At each junction the name of the cross street hangs boldly in front of the traffic lane in the signature san-serif typeface, lacking any unnecessary confusing suffixes such as “St”, “Rd”, “Ave” or “Blvd”. To me these signs are emblems of freedom and Manifest Destiny, the standardization of an entire continent, the laying down of the most superlative playing field ever.