A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts

Echo Park Lake, Los Angeles

Echo Park Lake, Los Angeles

Part III: Echo Park

While on this trip, I started thinking about predilection and perception; on the power of preconceived thoughts in creating your own reality. I thought about the internal rhythms of people and of places, of being “in sync” as opposed to “out of sync,” and wondered if a particular person might be better suited to one part of the world rather than another. I thought of being closed and of being open, and maybe being a little too open. I contemplated the line that separates hyper-perception and madness — and wondered if maybe they were the same thing, and there wasn’t a line at all.

All of this was churning in my head as I sat in standstill traffic on the 405 in a rented Hyundai, on my way to Echo Park.

My plan was, for two weeks, to live a slice of Los Angeles city life, as a resident and not as a tourist, and see if it suited me. There are a lot of misconceptions about L.A. Contrary to the opinions of many Bostonians, it’s not just about the superficial glitz of Hollywood. Nor is it NCIS or a West Coast version of The Wire. In the Echo Park neighborhood where I was staying, there are working class families with kids playing in the street, and musicians lugging around equipment and playing shows in all sorts of small clubs, bars, coffee houses, performance art spaces, record stores and occasionally people’s homes. Despite being a stone’s throw from downtown L.A., it has a very livable, cozy and artsy neighborhood feel, much like New York’s Lower East Side or the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Nearby Silver Lake and Los Feliz are a tad more upscale and comparable to Greenwich Village; that is, if you can imagine those areas with almost constant sunshine and substantial stretches of woods and greenery.

I come now to the overarching title of these stories, Lost and Found. It is mysterious to me how one person’s heaven can be another’s hell. I think it has a lot to do with perception. But I also believe in those rhythms I mentioned.

I can only say that my gracious but tormented host was wretchedly out of step with the rhythm of the city, and in those places where I found support and comfort, he found himself alternately attacked by hustlers and encased in deafening solitude. I was launched into an elaborate puzzle to be pieced together, full of the obtuse shapes of deranged personalities and lost wanderers, their color and form slowly taking shape over a week’s worth of almost 24 hour a day analysis and the circular storytelling of a mad poet.

He was haunted by the ghosts of the living — the various people hard on their luck whom he had taken in, for as long as they needed shelter. If I had completed that psychology degree all those years ago, I might have suggested that while he provided the homeless and the disenfranchised with a place to sleep, in return they provided him with companionship and adventure, without ever having to leave home. But sometimes they took more than they gave, and now, with little means and few answers, he was lost and in search of identity. At the same time, I was slowly discovering mine, amid the paradoxically teeming with life yet laissez faire environment.

I offered unprofessional advice, always a dangerous enterprise. In the end, I would go down in blazing defeat, exhausted and shaken yet strangely stronger in my own self-understanding.

On my first day, I took a walk around the nearby and newly renovated Echo Park Lake, a city oasis. It’s pointless to say that it was a beautiful and bright sunny day, because every day was. The palms swayed and gently caressed away all disturbing thoughts and uneasiness. It felt like the oddest yet most natural thing in the world to be sprawled out on the grass, 3,000 miles away from where I had lived for so many years.

That evening, I wandered casually into Tribal Cafe for some dinner and straight into a full-blown rock concert. I don’t know the name of the band and can’t say much, except that those were some very talented Asian kids, and the place was packed. My first east side L.A. band, and before the Echo Park Rising Festival even started.

Coming up next: 9 bands, 1 engaging discussion about the state of the music business and a teary farewell to some old friends.

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