I awaken from a nightmare by the sound of a girl upstairs having sex. It takes me a minute to figure out where I am, the past couple of days have consisted of a lot of traveling and waking up in different places every day. The morning light dawns on me… I am in Silverlake at a friends house. I haven't been up this early in a long time. Still a bit out of it from the nightmare and the few drinks we had the night before, I get up to use the water closet. As I walk through the kitchen I look out the window towards the east and see the light peaking over the hills making silhouettes out of the palm trees that stand watch on top of the hills overlooking Sunset Blvd. "Ha" I laugh to myself... "Sunrise over Sunset." It's six in the morning and my brain is already thinking of double entendres. I grab my iPhone and run outside.
The sun is rising fast. With a sense of urgency to take a picture of the sunrise, I run faster to the top of the hill where a voyeuristic new house is being built. The roaring sound of the city hasn't begun yet. It is quiet and dark. There is barely enough light to see the cracks in the side walk. There are other people walking their dogs, going on their morning runs, but only a very few. They look at me in confusion. Their faces expressed "what is this guy doing up so early?" I give them the same look. I find an empty lot on the hill. I can see straight to Downtown LA. I stand still to take it in. I've always wanted to know what it felt like to wake up in Silverlake.
If you have read about my past few visits to LA in my previous posts, then I'm sure you could sense a bit of frustration and incoherent resentment towards Los Angeles as though I am not a native to the city. It's the tale of two cities. I grew up in LA but have lived in Portland for the past couple of years and I have come to the realization that there is a better way to live... a way to enjoy life (Portlandia moment). Seeing LA's failures where Portland succeeds. The anxiety of the people, the polluted air, the inconvenience of LA's sprawling cityscape, the traffic, the selfish fact that everyone thinks they are a super star, the poor food quality, poor drinking water, the lack of “community”... okay okay I’ll stop there. The truth is that there isn't a better city, they are both beautiful. Just like a sunrise and sunset. There is only an appreciation for what they have to teach us about ourselves.
Throughout my week long visit I worked an estate sale with my pops. There is something truly fascinating about being able to look into the people of LA by way of the house they lived in. The lady who had lived there had past away months before, that is the true nature of the business. Her brother, who is now in charge of her estate, told us that before she died she suffered from Alzheimer's. That she would buy something, forget, and buy it again. There were about six of everything in the house, preferably in her favorite color green. A friend of my father's, Bob, was hanging around as the brother was telling us about his sister. Bob was in the estate sale business for over 30 years and is now retired. He also is an older gentleman, his hand trembled uncontrollably as he talked. "I still don't understand why people buy and hold onto things! Keeping things that hold sentimental value, things that were gifts or heirlooms... that I can understand. But it’s those people that buy things that they don’t need. I've seen it at it's worst! Where hallways in houses are piled up to the waist of things! I've heard stories where firemen couldn't get inside of a burning house to rescue people because the walkways were so full of just... STUFF! The fact that we are here at this estate sale is proof that you can't take any of it with you! And yet, people are going to come here and buy all these things, THAT THEY DON’T NEED. Things their family members don't even want. The family only wants the money."
There was a period as a young boy working estate sales with my father where houses were full of antiques. Things people would keep for its quality and durability. True craftsmen work. Houses full of sentimental items that have been passed on from generation to generation. Over the past decade and a half those quality items are becoming more uncommon as we enter into a new era of things that don’t last. Substituted by newer, cheaper made items that break easier than the hundred plus year old items. That is the culture LA lives in. We buy a product, a shiny updated version that functions the same as it’s predecessor. Cars, clothes, houses… you name it. If a product is too expensive because it was made for longevity, we won’t buy it because the cheaper version works just as good. So we continue to buy cheap, let things break and then buy a new one. Thinking for the here and now rather than years down the road. Everything that breaks or that we don’t want gets thrown away… buried beneath our mountains of regret called landfills. We buy upgrades, throw away the old. We marry, divorce and marry again. The idea of wanting the newer and shinier thing is now ingrained in our beliefs.
This is why I went to Los Angeles. I wanted to start a photo documenting project, one on the human condition through the people of Los Angeles who migrated there with “nothing” striving for something, ANYTHING! An idea that has been sold over and over again. A means to define what is important. Is it family, property, money, friends? People migrate to LA to work hard to support their family. Counter intuitively, they buy into the materialistic life, putting an even heavier strain on them to spend/make more money on things they don't need. It's a vicious cycle. All the by-products of this lifestyle is thrown back into the air, dumped into the ocean or buried in the mountains above the city right next to the very mansions they live in. The people of the city will pay top dollar on their looks while they live poorly.
After a long day of setting up an estate sale in Arcadia my father and I walked to our cars and came across the neighbor on our way. My father stops to inform the man that we will be having a sale next weekend and to get ready for a lot of people parking in the area. The man replies “Oh! They are finally selling that house ay? My sister is bedridden in a room on that side of the house. I better go tell her to get ready for all the mariachi music that is going to be playing every morning when the amigos come to tear that sucker down because the the Asians are going to come and build a giant mansion on that property first chance they get!” The man is Caucasian, my father is black and it all came full circle. Talk like this is pretty common in LA. Low key stereotyping of cultures that can be considered "racist." But the man was right. That is exactly what is going to happen. The street we were on is lined with ridiculously sized mansions with a few family sized houses. Something new and shiny. An upgrade from the old that somebody will buy to prove their legacy in the sprawling city. To quote Jack Kerouac, one of the greatest american writers, “If you own a rug you own too much.”