The Naked City

Skinny dippers and mad millionaires. Just another weekend in our breezy Brigadoon.

Say what you want about LA, how the slow drivers never stay to the right, or no one can make a decent loaf of bread, or how developers bulldoze the past before it’s even the past.

Yet, LA retains a fine spirit and remains robust in ways that set it apart from more run-of-the-mill cities – thinking Paris here…thinking New York.

Such a weekend we just celebrated, full of sin and dishonor, two qualities that also make special our little village by the sea.

Far as dishonor goes, I got a bad piece of fish at California Adventure on Friday. Not spoiled or anything, just criminally too small. I mean, what did I expect for 25 bucks? More than a bite or two?

I swear, LA is the nation’s longest-running comedy.

No, he wasn’t homeless. It was worse than that. He was European.

Then on Sunday, the kids and I watched a lifeguard pull a skinny-dipper from the drink, even though he wasn’t all that skinny. Definitely, though, he was a dipper.

“In the end, everything turns to gin” said the poet Richard Cecil, and so it does on this hot Sunday, tonic-water waves blasted by 30 mph gusts. You can almost smell the juniper berries and coriander seeds.

In all honesty, the Pacific usually has the cool chill of something distilled in London.

Down at the water line, an underpaid Santa Monica lifeguard orders the nudist from the water. The middle-aged swimmer is naked, having dropped his suit in the sand and strolled, for thousands to see, au naturel, into the surf.

No, he wasn’t homeless. It was worse than that. He was European, though since he wasn’t carrying any ID — or a flag of any kind — we can only assume.

No one stands and gawks, as they would in Milwaukee or Galveston. No one calls a pastor or the PTA. This is LA, so the lifeguard acts as cool as the skinny dipper, as if this is just another call on a busy Sunday.

I feel bad for the poor kids whose first sight of an adult wiener is this, an empty balloon belonging to this inglorious goof, who decided it was OK to disrobe in front of thousands of strangers.

Bottom line: Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Carry on, LA.

I feel like a cowboy riding the range as I move about Los Angeles these days. Each weekend, life gets a little rowdier. Freeway traffic is almost at a standstill once again, except for the yo-yos who insist on going 80 no matter what.

Experts say some residents are dealing with “cave syndrome,” or “re-entry anxiety,” after being cooped up for so long. Frankly, I don’t see it. The roads are packed, the beach lots full.

If trends continue, I hope to hold a wedding here soon…my own. I don’t want a marriage, just the ceremony, because I miss weddings – the open bars, the bands, the single people on the make, the married people sitting alone at a table with a chunk of cake  — no longer really caring — and thinking: “Gee, hope it works out better for them.”

I would love to have a wedding just to include my nutty friends as groomsmen – six or eight of them, maybe a dozen. The rehearsal alone would be a riot.

“Where are you honeymooning?” guests would ask.

“Oh, there’s no honeymoon,” I’d explain. “This is it. Just the wedding.”

All I’m lacking is a blushing bride.

Know any? I mean, does anyone in LA blush anymore?

Don’t worry, the ceremony would not be legally binding, since this is Southern California, where nothing is legally binding and apparently there are no longer any laws. You can shake your noodle anywhere. You can blow through red lights. You can buy salvation.

The other day, I was telling the story about Griffith J. Griffith, who donated Griffith Park to the city. Five times the size of Central Park, the land was quite the civic gift, and everyone was happy with Griffith J. Griffith, till he shot his wife in the eye during a drunken rage (she survived; the marriage didn’t).

When they let him out of San Quentin, Griffith J. Griffith tried to polish his sullied reputation by donating loot to build the Observatory and the Greek Theater. City leaders, who were a little more moral back then, would have none of it. It wasn’t till he died that they took his money, and now we have a nice telescope on the hill, as well as a handy place for teenagers to make out.

I mentioned this to the Happy Hour Hikers after our Saturday hike. Locals say the park is haunted, perhaps by the spirit of Mrs. Griffith J. Griffith. Or perhaps by the rich old lout himself, who once raised ostriches here.

Dang, LA has a fantastic past, doesn’t it?

Point is, high crimes and misdemeanors have always been part of the fabric of this community. They ride the Santa Ana winds, and the city buses late at night. They slide in, just before the Gold Line doors close.

Photo by Kevin Ayers

After our hike, we filled our tummies with happy juice – another LA tradition. As we chatted and laughed, a Griffith Park hawk swopped in and perched on a branch 15 feet away, where it preened and posed for might’ve been 10 minutes.

I suppose preening and posing have always been a way of life in LA too (see skinny dipper above).

What a breezy Brigadoon we live in, unmanageable and full of feral creatures. To drift across the Naked City right now is to witnesses a million unacknowledged kindnesses, just like before. Someone holds a door, or lets someone cut in, and there’s rarely a nod or a thank you.

I mean, who has the time?

But our breezy Brigadoon is back, all right – emboldened by the vaccine, or perhaps just not caring anymore.

Mazel tov!

Props to those who joined the Happy Hour Hike in Griffith Park on Saturday. Next up: Lake Hollywood, another slice of LA lore. Details to come. Sign up for info at Meanwhile, support this little enterprise by buying a book or a tee-shirt. Click here to order a Boomer U shirt. Be safe. Move around. Cheers.

Photo by Charlie Kamar

7 thoughts on “The Naked City

  1. Thanks for the smiles and reminders of all the wonders that surround us, Chris! We are truly blessed to live in this crazy, enchanted kingdom by the sea. (The occasional limp noodle on the beach not withstanding.)

  2. Speaking of haunted, I was in Cooperstown last month and a waitress told me not to miss the haunted mansion at Hyde Hall since I was going to Glimmerglass State Park. After I saw the covered bridge, the beaver pond, assorted trails, I saw the sign for the mansion so I headed up the steep hill, glad I’d upgraded to a Jeep. It was closed for Covid, of course, but I stopped to snap a photo. Then, with my foot on the brake the car spun 90 degrees and started heading down the hill. I remembered pumping, so I tapped the accelerator then braked again and it stopped before plummeting off the side of the hill. I still don’t believe in ghosts, but the waitress gave me a big fat “I told you so,” the next morning. Hmmmm.

  3. I liked the dandy band of hikers at the end of this piece. Is it a sign of the moment, or something else, that most were not wearing masks while still in the midst of an ever-evolving, raging pandemic ? Perhaps it’s not easy to slip the lip of a G&T cup under a mask…And for the record, it seems to me that L.A. never goes away—not this time,either. Rather, right before eyes it does its hazy shape shifting thing, and as you watch the illusion form; you believe it, as the newcomers also almost always do. But underneath, deep in the unsteady sands of the basin, it is the same. It is this mixture of sunny haze and gritty reality that defines this incredible place. The film industry had to be here, in this soul city of illusion, for where else could you tell your own story so many different ways and only be waved away by a tree’s palm ? Cynicism and belief live side by side here. Some say they’re in love, but they never marry. In your case Chris, I hope they consummate the relationship.

  4. Guy on beach, yikes! Griffiths, well, LA was bequeathed an Observatory, with OJ ,LA received nothing for his verdict. Brigadoon, I don’t think it’s an apt analogy; the Brigadoon thorpe woke up one day out of a century, but was set two hundred years in the past, never to change,mired in its’ past. LA is the most quixotic metropolis on the planet, it changes every two seconds, part of its’ charm, part of its’ tragedy.

  5. After slowing in the prose of your posts, I love to read the comments where all try to write half as well as you do. Cheers, Chris.

Leave a Reply