Extreme navigation through this LA town: hurried apartment hunt, boycotting the streets under construction, masquerading at 45 mph with the sea breeze combing my hair into a proper tangle. Searching for a new place to live is like forgetting where you placed your keys – comical folly, cataclysmic frustration, pumping through rent ads like pumping your hand into the pocket that you have searched a hundred times.
The transparency of apartment advertisements becomes alarming; and, on the flip side, the bluntness of them can incite the heartiest of laughs. I promise I saw this in an advertisement yesterday: “The dumpster outside the master bedroom window will smell up the room at times. Price tag: $1200/month.” Might as well tell me that the vagabonds who congregate near the back window will leave in their wake gurgling fecal decay that ripens in the oven of the sun if I am not diligent enough to report their droppings with haste.
In the brute and relentless apartment search, I come across disguises weaved by property management companies.
Close to the ocean = you can’t afford it.
Charming and quaint = shoe box and cramped.
Quiet neighborhood = non-tolerant neighbors.
Newly remodeled = quick-fix repairs that will trouble you in a month.
Hot plate = no cooking.
New carpet = loss of security deposit.
Street parking = bring a skateboard because you’ll end up parking miles away.
Los Angeles is a wasteland: stone buildings crouched like cacti are full of pricks; a mirage of happiness in suits, high heels and expensive cars; the little water here spreads among the wealthy and dries up when the job seeker coughing out unemployment dust comes to call. I suppose it’s not all negativity. The ocean playing on the Westside of town encourages with opportunity waves that crash and rebirth themselves in the tide. The electric movement of life here inspires forward progress, happy hour hallucinations and the wish to publicize your talent on a billboard everyone can see.
Weighing the negatives and positives of this city feels like hiring a bulldozer to shovel the bad and lifting up the good with your pinkie finger. The decision to follow through on moving here comes from the comparison of lifestyles I wish to live. Los Angeles means a major career move, professional experience and the money that feeds it, a proactive commitment to new experiences and comfortably buttoning my big boy pants. But my hometown means more on the personal front: irreplaceable family, decade-old friendships, familiarity at every bend and the contagious glow of life’s even keel pace. It’s just that life at my age comes with heavy doses of indecision; jumping from conclusion to conclusion haphazardly, blindfolded – the perpetual leap of faith.
In resuming the urban housing hunt this morning, I stepped in a pile of dog shit somewhere between Venice and Mar Vista. I noticed my error halfway through, and skimmed the pile without flattening it. Indeed, I thought this a fantastic metaphor for the apartment renting process in Los Angeles: no amount of tip-toeing will keep you free of the financial shit-stench that comes with signing a one-year lease on an overpriced, begrudgingly small apartment.
And if the poop wasn’t enough to sour my day, I found myself in the friction of constant transit. The Los Angeles traffic took my patience and twisted it into a knot of brake lights and close-call merging. In this indy-car rat-race, passivity only gets you to the next red light, but aggression will get you through the intersection on a yellow. You learn that living here.
You also take chances when you look for apartments online. Most websites charge massive rates when you try to view their listings. Half of the calls you make to rental agencies go unanswered, the remaining half going to scam centers and over-eager property management companies who show you apartments with tenants who haven’t moved out yet; so you can see errant cleaning habits, uncleaned bongs, dirty underwear and overall renter negligence. And selective photography runs rampant online: that “sunny spot” one bedroom actually sits in the middle of eternal construction zones and street parking mayhem . But they won’t show you that in the photo, will they?
Eventually, I cashed in hours of frustration for a five-minute viewing of a one bedroom that seemed doable. The property manager did a good job to get me in and out before I could find the flaws in the place. I did, however, notice that the main staircase in the complex was next to my potential unit, which would unquestionably disrupt sleep-in weekends. I walked out with an application but it’s sitting next to me, as I type, incomplete. Indecisiveness – again my platonic partner.
It’s only fitting that I end the evening with a drink in my hand, using the nighttime hours to replenish certainty and faith. The warm Los Angeles air touches with ocean wind fingerprints, stenciling the night with cool zephyrs and starlight. This city has a hum to it now: the residual breathing of a murmuring giant. The cadence of life drums up an urban beat most people choose not to hear; the cacophony too much for them to handle. Indeed, overwhelming understates itself in the hustle of Los Angeles. Financial security becomes paramount. A carnival of responsibility plays its music a bit too loud. It almost feels like you’ve inducted yourself into frat house rush week that ends when you finally land the well-paying job you’ve pursued for years.
Pondering complete, with the daze of late-night television illuminating the living room, I find undisturbed sleep, and dream about the days when the cost of living meant tilling the land, free of contracts and megaton skyscraper windows that reflect the sun and the brightness of the day in order to hide the 9-5 gloom that resides in their unforgiving walls.