First, there is no such place as Los Angeles.
Accepting that, the rules laid down herein will help you live there.
There are those who would have you believe that such a place exists. They will tell you that more than thirteen million people live in its metro area and that it has an economy roughly equal to that of Australia. They will insist that it occupies a specific physical space of nearly 400 square miles. These people will not tell you that it is an ever-shifting transient space bordered by fire, the Pacific Ocean and endless, rocky desert. They will not tell you that the Los Angeles Basin sinks one quarter of an inch every year. They will insist that Los Angeles is a city like any other. They also say that there is weather. These people are trying to sell you something. Do not believe them.
The population of Los Angeles is always one, but there are more than thirteen million Los Angeleses.
When you arrive in Los Angeles, it will be by way of frustration. You set out for the city with hopes and dreams, some zest, some zeal. By the time you arrive, your clothes are sweaty from the long flight/drive/ocean-crossing. You call your Mom/Grandmother/Lover with artificial, plastic happiness in your voice and say that everything is going great. An hour in the city and you are already an actor.
You stand outside the Target at Santa Monica and La Brea with your bags over your shoulder and all your insecurities clogging your throat. The Santa Monica Mountains are burning tonight, and you watch an orange ribbon of fire consume a mountain, leaving it as black as the sky.
You wander north because it feels right and a man who might be a bum—but is maybe just dirty and deranged—follows close behind you, whispering and swearing. At Hollywood and Highland you stand still in a crush of tourists and sneer. They bumble past you without looking at you. They clutch their trinkets tight. Their eyes are wide, all smacked out on dreams.
Tourists, you think, I am better than them, because I live here.
There seems to be a hierarchy. You get that impression because no one seems to be impressed by you. Perhaps you haven’t met the right people. You are renting a studio/room/bed and you realize that if you had just rented somewhere else, everyone would love you by now.
You consider getting a tattoo/changing your sexual orientation/going home.
You start occasionally fucking someone you know you will never love. His/Her name is Drew and you say, "There seems to be a hierarchy. I should get a BMW so that I can fit in."
Drew takes you seriously and considers your idea, because in LA no one ever says an idea is stupid, "Then people would know that you have value as a person and you could be an asshole on the freeway."
"They are such assholes," you say.
"Everybody is such an asshole," Drew says.
You take a job waiting tables/logging tape/doing porno in the Valley because it gives you time to write/go on auditions/work on your music. You move in with Drew for the cheap rent, but secretly you are crushing on Olivia at work. She has tats like a SuicideGirl and sharp, straight scars on her arms from when she was a cutter. She isn’t normally your type, but you start dressing like a Melrose Rockstar just to impress her.
Months go by, Drew can tell there is a problem, but you don’t care. You go to shows with Olivia and finally make out with her back by the bathrooms where the floor is slippery with piss. You go back to her place, it is filthy, but her three roommates are out. She kisses wet and long and with a lot of tongue and her skin is unlike anything you have ever felt. You run your hands down her calves, over her scars. You have never been this turned on. You go down on her for like an hour. She cums hard and you think you’re a god. The fucking is great. You come to understand why damage is so good.
Later, you get caught, because Drew’s cousin/life coach/same-sex ex works at Paramount/RCA/MoCA with Olivia’s cousin/life coach/same-sex ex. Drew screams/hits you/says you’re just like everybody else. You feel worse than you have ever felt before and you realize that you’re not the same person you were when you moved here. You are worse, and you don’t know why.
You make it big! At a club/restaurant/The Ivy you meet a producer/agent/director who immediately recognizes your genius. He/She/He-She looks at you like sunlight streams from your eyes. You realize all your dreams.
No you don’t. You’re being made fun of. This is the sort of bitter/cruel/cannibalistic humor you are developing. You have developed it like a callus and it is smothering your heart.
You go out with some friends you barely know/like/recognize as human. You go drinking on the 3rd Street Promenade and blow half your rent. You get all drunk and make out with a stranger who then throws up in the bushes around one of the dinosaur fountains. The two of you stumble down to the beach. You have a condom and when you are done screwing, you realize that a couple of bums have been watching you. You barely even care. You tell the stranger—who is Asian, you see now—about home and all the great friends you have there.
When the stranger ditches you, you call Drew on your cell phone and say that you are so sorry.
"Are you fucking drunk?" Drew asks, still angry.
"No no, nonono," you say.
"Don’t call me again."
"But I love you," you say, dropping the neutron bomb of Los Angeles relationships. You have been here long enough to know that love becomes a different element south of the Grapevine and north of Camp Pendleton. The word has a different atomic weight. Its atoms become charged in some frenzied/frantic/desperate way. Electrons sizzle and find new orbits, free radicals find their homes, resonances become stable, and the atoms redistribute to some durable double-bonded happiness.
The word is a bombshell with a grin. It erases history because it so utterly obliterates it. It levels the playing field by destroying it. Love, in Los Angeles, renders truth meaningless.
"Do you mean it?" Drew asks.
"Yes," you lie.
You agree with everyone when they say that it is a cold day. You do not tell them what a cold day is like back home, because everyone has a back home where it is colder.
"This city," you tell Drew when you get home, "is a fictional construct that we all have agreed to dream about." You say things like ’fictional construct’ now because you have gone back to school so that one day you will get promoted/teach/be able to support your new child.
You cradle the baby in your arms as he/she drifts slowly off to sleep and you say, "You are the only person I have ever met who is from here."
You have lived here long enough that you think you like Los Angeles. You have shrugged your shoulders and decided that hot asphalt and cracked concrete is all that makes a city. You ignore the sad, desperate stretches of your existence and focus your memories down to the blissful/cinematic/ephemeral moments of completion/validation/happiness. You make yourself think that freeways are supposed to clog like this and that the air is brown everywhere.
You don’t notice as your life/hopes/dreams become as small as work and your apartment. And you don’t notice as Los Angeles shrinks to the size of your life.
You don’t notice anymore that you live in a place where the shattered slivers of glass bottles intermix in the gutters with the splinters of thirteen million broken dreams.
And you barely even notice anymore that Los Angeles doesn’t really exist, because, by now, you don’t either.