Dear Los Angeles:
You are my Valentine.
Allow me to explain why.
I’m sitting here at my kitchen table, listening to the howls of my neighborhood coyote, Mark. It’s that time of the year for Mark — mating season. So Mark’s on the prowl, and he’s got a lot to say lately. I stay out of Mark’s way, because he’s a powerful creature who could easily bite me, but as yet, Mark has shown no interest in doing so. In fact, Mark walks by me sometimes at night and completely ignores me. Oh, he knows I’m there, but he doesn’t care. Mark’s got his eye on bigger things, like keeping his genetic line alive.
Honestly, with his deep sense of purpose and profound lack of interest in anyone who doesn’t directly affect his day-to-day life, Mark’s more like a New Yorker than a Los Angeleno — at least those of the human variety.
Now here I must be honest with you and tell you that I love New York and I always will, in the way that I will always love my first real high school boyfriend — at a distance, respectfully, fondly, with a slightly romantic nostalgia and gratitude that things didn’t work out for us because that’s not what was meant to happen. I like to visit. I like to catch up. We’re both better off now. This is truly how it was meant to be.
I grew up in New Jersey, not too far from the city, but that’s another world. I moved to Boston when I was 18, to go to Emerson College. I spent some time in the Netherlands, eating chocolate. I dropped out and moved back to Jersey when I was 21. I moved to North Carolina later, to attend Warren Wilson College, and then at 23 moved to the Southwest, to work with AmeriCorps, which is the Peace Corps for people who enjoy indoor plumbing and avoid malaria shots whenever possible. I moved to New York when I was 24, to attend Columbia and get a master’s degree and become a public school teacher. I got the degree but swiftly became a comedian and lived some early version of the hit documentary series known as “Broad City.”
In this business we call show, it is generally acknowledged as advantageous to spend a lot of time, perhaps most of one’s time, in Los Angeles. So I’ve been bicoastal for the past few years.
I am now 35. I have had at least 17 addresses since I was 18 years old. I may have a few more before I shuffle off this mortal coil (hopefully, not for a while, of course.) Now, I have an address in Los Angeles, near Mark, my best friend.
I hope I am here to stay. For real.
That doesn’t mean I won’t leave you sometimes, you sexy bitch. I like to travel. I haven’t spent more than four weeks in one place for the past 18 months. The road, she calls me, and I must answer, whether to tell jokes next to a Waffle House or explore the ins and outs of strange and exotic Barnes & Noble stores around the country.
But I’m proud to call you home.
Los Angeles, in you I find a kind of excitement and possibility and hope and weirdness and oddball eccentricity that has increasingly fled New York for other, more affordable cities. You are bizarre and full of witches and curious plant life. You are the mountains and the sea and the desert and the strip mall parking lot and other pieces of paradise.
And while it is true that your real estate market is insane when it comes to purchasing a home, I’m not looking to purchase a home. Not yet, anyway. Nor are many of my friends. We’re looking for decent rent. We’re looking to live lives as that rarest of birds: the middle-class working artist.
This is not possible for most people in New York City. It is a city that has become increasingly hostile to working artists. And I’m done giving myself brownie points for struggling constantly to find some kind of financial stability and peace of mind there.
But it is possible here, sometimes. Particularly if one expands one’s definition of Los Angeles to include the Valley — which I hold to be a glorious place, but you must keep in mind I also love my native state of New Jersey, which is “The Valley East.”
I’ll admit, I don’t have a fancy home. I have a studio. Mark prowls around outside and yells a lot. The pipes make funny noises in the walls. I am fairly certain a skunk is on the loose. Combine this with the stinky marijuana factory nearby and you’ve got a pungent home atmosphere.
You, Los Angeles, are choked with traffic. You survive on stolen water. You have earthquakes. You’re better than NYC when it comes to rent, but you’re still absurd about it. People here live in poverty. People here live in squalor. People here live in pain, just as they do anywhere else in the world.
You are not perfect.
But I love you. You are so much more than an amalgamation of hallucinatory pop culture fantasies and fake-titty manufacturing concerns and dental-whitening facilities. You are diverse geographically, culturally, in so many other ways. You have the best damn food I’ve had in any city in the world. You have a gorgeous parks system, and it’s free. You have the sun, and sometimes the rain, but mostly the sun. You have a passionate, engaged network of nonprofit workers and volunteers who seek to serve all your people.
I’m, like, super-into-you.
So I love you, Los Angeles, and Happy Valentine’s Day.
* * *
Sara Benincasa is a comedian, host of the “Where Ya From?” podcast, and the author of four books, including the YA novel (soon film) “DC Trip” and the nonfiction title “Real Artists Have Day Jobs (And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School).” At the time of this writing, she lived in Mark the Coyote’s neighborhood. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.