I came to LA to give a conference paper at Oxyfood17. My trojan-horse reason was to read a book in the place it was written. This is my travel thing to do, Invisible Cities in Venice"Invisible Cities" in Venice, Watership Down on the beach where Lost’s Sawyer read it & so on.
LA is different: My first favorite book—the one that made me examine my own emotional landscape—is Francesca Lia Block's Dangerous Angels. In a brazen gesture of fandom, I reached out to her. Told her what I was doing. Like the kind and lovely person I believed her to be, she wrote back with a picture perfect itinerary from a blog with the places that had inspired the book.
I went back in time and stayed at the Culver Hotel . During the 1920’s style happy hour, in one sitting, I read all bits of the 479 page collection. With plenty of freely flowing champagne, of course. I definitely cried on that velvet chaise. Of course.
When I first read this, in 1996, I was 14. That’s 21 years ago. A whole person ago. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the role the book had in putting HIV/AIDS on the radar for white, straight, suburban America. It rewrote the narrative of ‘the gay disease,’ or ‘the junkie disease.’
She was also on the forefront of explaining (to the same demographic) the ridiculousness of immigration/deportation policies, and homophobic attitudes. She made young, white, America ask how could people be illegal? How do we live in a world where people are illegal and love can get you killed?
I plan my pre and post conference adventures around re-reading this book in certain places. I plan around food that features as prominently as any character in the book, like Canters pastrami and pink champagne.
Arguably, The Oki-Dog is the food most widely familiar to Block’s readers. It’s legendary! Yet… 2016 came around & a big old Trump sign went up, and stayed. I can’t give my money there. It isn’t 1996 when Dangerous Angels first came out.
STDs/STIs are much more complicated, and we’re bleeding money for education and treatment. ‘Refugee’ is in ‘the immigration conversation’ in more complex ways, too... increased rates of murder/violence against LGBTQ individuals. It’s not 1996. Many of us live in nightmare bubbles.
I walk by the Le Brea Tar Pits. I see tar (but it is not actually tar) bubbling up through the sidewalk. “They are trapped there forever, it breaks my heart!” (FLB). I walk through The Original Farmer’s Market. I am hot and sleepy because, in a fugue state, this city replaced all the trees with palm trees. Jacarandas are the only shade.
The soil looks like my grandmother’s hands. The layer of concrete on top of the “tar,” or “on the river,” or forever holding the hands of entertainment gods and goddesses… It’s a porcelain tectonic plate. In a town literally and figuratively built on artifice, it is easy to project magic onto this ground.
I ended up doing 9 of the things on FLB’s 50, or so, item list. Some, due to running out of time, and some were closed—pointing again to the ephemeral nature of this place. I didn’t get an Oki Dog. But I sat by this damn pool and reread the words that shaped me as a young thing, back in 1996.
“Believe in your own magic… look stuff right in the eye… All the ghosts and demons are just you…. Look stuff right in the eye” (D.A. 361-362)
“Find kisses about apple pie a la mode with vanilla”
and have a lot more of those kisses after that. (D.A. 29)
Or, at least, pick up the phone and tell someone you love them. Life is short for us mere mortals.
Many thanks to Francesca Lia Block for your kindness, your dedication to storytelling and love.