by Steve Erickson
“… In Los Angeles you have to figure out for yourself when you’re there”
I watched the Ambassador Hotel be demolished from my apartment window on Normandie Street. Norman Klein reminds us that the history of Los Angeles is the History of Forgetting.
The Ambassador was a husk of a building, sinister at night in a part of town that had grown sinister before I ever wandered into it. I never understood why people were upset about it being taken down. It was ugly and foreboding by then. But the old men, the faded men of Hollywood, who drank at the HMS Bounty bar across the street mourned its passing every night.
Maybe it was that everything in that neighborhood had already shifted: from Anglo success and swimming pools to Oaxacan striving and Korean cultural dominance. The Brown Derby was moved a few blocks and then mistranslated into a strip mall. How Los Angeles loves to shift and reinterpret its landmarks.
My distaste for the rotting architectural corpse didn’t stop me from sneaking in one night mid-demolish to find the kitchen where Bobby Kennedy was shot, though. Norman Klein talks about how important Noir Tourism is to Los Angeles. I was never interested in the shininess of Hollywood, but in the grit around the edges, the promise of sin and danger.
Of course I was young. Now I am enjoying the puritan glow of eating well and exercising. But this book unnerved me in a way I haven’t felt for years. Like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves or J.G. Ballard’s Crash, it crawled inside me and shifted things around. Los Angeles had started to seem benevolent, kind almost. But now I’m back in a noir movie.
I forgot about those invisible boundaries in Los Angeles, where every street is evidence of some kind of turf war, where even our sense of human beauty is warped by capitalism’s aesthetics and delineations. And when you cross those borders, you don’t so easily come back. Like Caesar at the Rubicon river, as soon as it is crossed something changes forever.
In the book there is America 1 and America 2, and no one seems to know which America they were born in. They don’t know the border between Real America and Fake America anymore, and it’s an increasingly dangerous question to get wrong in whatever opaque context you find yourself in.
I found myself repeatedly checking the publishing date (1986) to see if it had crossed over to this year. It hasn’t yet.