Outside, a warm rain sweeps down the sidewalk, offering the promise of spring on the way. Despite the damp sting, one flirts with optimism. And to think that two weeks ago I was smashing tennis balls shirtless in the sun of the San Fernando Valley. The whiplash of modern life.
Two Hopkins girls are camped out at the next table A half-eaten blueberry muffin stands on a plate between, shaped like a Roman ruin. And two neglected mimosas. I’m impressed at how patiently they eat and drink.
The tops of their laptop screens, which nearly touch, tremble slightly as the girl’s fingernails dance on the Chiclet keys. The taller of the two, a chatty blond who often tugs at the string of her hoodie, will sometimes begrudgingly glance at the massive textbook on the table, but she’s far more interested in the updates on her Facebook page.
Our need to broadcast all the details of our lives has become pathological. We communicate too much while living too little. The image of drunks at a still comes to mind. The thirst, of course, is for connection. But how deceptive and unsatisfying this kind seems.
I’m dressed, I’m noticing, in my Boulder-bought clothes, which have traveled to meet me in several ways: crammed in suitcases, stuffed in postal boxes, wedged into the cavities of my car.
Indeed these threads have come a long way. Our relationship is strained. The clothes are neither important or noteworthy — shirts and pants I could have gotten anywhere. In fact, I did. They trail me like a lover who does not yet know the relationship is over.
At the bar near the Facebook girls, the stocky guy in army fatigues sitting at the bar, who had been reading Proust when I arrived, has metamorphosed into a wiry fellow in faded jeans and Converse low tops.
Two weeks ago people were slender and bronze-colored, and believed that the makes and models of their automobiles were important to their identity and future prospects. Now, people are far more earthy. They are compleckted in shades of anemic white and bonemeal gray and wear flannel shirts and page through textbooks as thick as bricks.
This is Maryland, the Old Line State, where history oozes from the stone and brick of every building in far different ways than it had in the flimsy wood and stucco West. There it hardly mattered what had come before. Not here. Oh, no. Here the 19th and 20th centuries — and even the 18th and 17th — reach forward from the past to grab you and demand that you acknowledge them. It does this through the people, even if they are unaware of it. So you do, acknowledge it, because you think then it may let up and allow something else to happen. But it doesn’t, not really.
The thing about Boulder that I had not encountered elsewhere: no one wanted anything from you. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The well-to-do alpine folk of that squeaky clean town were content with their lives exactly they way they were and didn’t want them changed at all, thank you very much. So you never got the feeling of being pulled into anything. The REI clad people strolling the Pearl Street Mall didn’t send out tendrils of need, didn’t try to probe you the ways some Angelenos do (unbeknownst to them; I will give them that).
In Los Angeles, in public places you sometimes sensed a certain segment of the population reaching out with their eyes and minds and wills and desire, wanting something. What was it?
I wondered if those newly landed in LaLa land had that something that the jaded, jangled locals hungered for — optimism? hope? unjadedness? — and we were irresistibly alluring simply because we hadn’t been there very long, hadn’t lost it, and the time hadn’t yet arrived when we would start to want it and seek it in others, too.
Another morning at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, waiting for an assignment to come through, observing: Two pregnant woman showing bare bulging midriffs, looking stunning in that tanned, fit L.A. way; a seventy-something woman in a charcoal-colored bathrobe staring unabashedly at them; a man and woman in full motorcycle leathers; all the usual attention-getting faces and bodies — the plentiful blond, sunglass-wearing beauties and square jawed hunks from the Midwest. And the old guy, Bill, snoring gently in a deep leather chair, the L.A. Times on his chest rising and falling with each breath. And the sour faced fiftyish guy paging angrily through the classifieds.
Despite the diversity of exteriors, situations and origins, there is a cooperation here that is surprising and wide-spread if you look for it, as if these people instinctively understand there are just too many of them to live on the flat, dry land, and the best course is just to, well, get along. The over-crowdedness creates a necessity of concession, a kind of community and a joining together that makes people who wouldn’t otherwise feel a part of a larger whole be just that.