The Dust

From The Paris Review:

Where I live is about twenty minutes from anywhere else in Los Angeles. What this actually means is that I live ten minutes from anything when there’s no traffic, and forty-five minutes when there is. In reality, there’s no given instance during the day when I actually live twenty minutes from any geographical point in LA, but it’s an easy way to say I live in the middle of town. The area lacks the socioeconomic and demographic cohesion common to most LA neighborhoods, so it’s not particularly cool or uncool, it’s just twenty minutes from places that are. It’s a neighborhood that’s special in the same way a local laundromat is special—you get people from all walks of life.

The building itself is a small, charming holdover from when old Hollywood was just called Hollywood. I park on the street, and I live in one of fourteen modest units, where I am very happy. I’ve lived in old buildings for most of my adult life, and it is my preference to do so. Of course, there are costs associated with living in an old building. You might have an occasional leak or wonky electrical wiring, but these are small problems that can be solved. As with any formative experience, part of the joy in fixing them is the skill gained, or the longevity of the solution. If you fix a leak and you did it right, it’ll take a second for the leak to come back. Once you’ve dealt with something once, it is not such a tragedy the next time. I think that’s what it is to get older: you get softer with age because you’ve experienced a lot of things once, and you’re equipped to do them again if you have to. Remember that first sip of alcohol, or the first cigarette? You turned your back on your innocence, but you didn’t die, so you did it again. However, when a task requires constant maintenance, there is no finish line, so there is no small victory. You never feel done, and it becomes the bane of your existence. The great scourge of my little life, twenty minutes from everywhere else in Los Angeles, is the dust.

LA is a dusty town, and in the century that my building has been around, it has only gathered more of it. The once airtight caulk around the windows has loosened its grip, and the drywall has eroded into Swiss cheese. It doesn’t help that I’m two blocks from an especially busy intersection, and it definitely doesn’t help that I have filled my home with secondhand objects that bring with them their own histories of dust. I clean constantly, with nightly touch-ups and a deep clean that eats up half of an honest weekend. I sweep, Swiffer (dry and wet), and vacuum, but really I am just displacing the dust. As I clean, I kick up more dust, and, betrayed by my own body, I make even more new dust by shedding dead skin cells throughout the process. There is no end in sight, because there is no end to the dust.

I encourage the dust even further by leaving my windows wide open during the day. This is an attempt to cycle out the stale air for fresh air, but who am I kidding? LA is famous for having some of the worst air in the world. But to me it smells good. It smells like everything it has ever touched. It smells like the elements and it smells like argan oil. Sometimes it smells like jasmine, sometimes like wildfires, and, if you try hard enough, it smells like nickels, and the dream of a sweaty handshake from some producer that made moving across the country all worth it, because that handshake is going to change your life. I have knowingly created ideal conditions in which dust thrives, but what’s the point of California if you’re not going to blur the line between indoor and out?

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG notes that, although LA is often criticized for its sameness, it has a
much wider variety of neighborhoods than Chicago, which is (or was) noted for
its ethnic neighborhoods.

Although there are a lot of different ethnicities in the Los Angeles area,
there are fewer neighborhoods where you feel like you might be in a foreign
land that doesn’t speak Spanish. Instead of growing up, LA grew by spreading in
all directions except the Western parts, which bumped into the Pacific.

LA grew so rapidly during the 50s through the 70s that more than a few
buildings were put up cheap. With no winter weather to worry about, a great
many houses and commercial structures were built quickly with no insulation.
Urban sprawl was invented in LA.

Earthquake-survivable building codes only came into being after construction of a whole lot
of quick and dirty housing developments and commercial buildings, which still
dot the landscape in poor and outlying areas.

Since PG moved away from the Los Angeles area a long time ago, he hasn’t
been back with a lot of frequency and hasn’t driven beyond a few interstates in
the last 20+ years, so his impressions might not be accurate. However, the OP sounded like some parts of the mega-urban sprawl haven’t changed.