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Jack Smith

New Yorkers aren't called Yorkers and San Franciscans aren't called Franciscans. So why are we Angelenos?

December 02, 1985|Jack Smith

Literary putdowns of Los Angeles don't offend me. I love them. That's why I print so many of them here.

A city that inspires such contempt must have character.

I only wish that the diatribes against Los Angeles were more effective, and might discourage further migration from the Middle and Eastern states. But, alas, even their authors sooner or later end up here.

Now and then, in recent years, I have imagined that the flow of abuse from Eastern and foreign journalists and pundits was abating, but then some envious columnist, novelist or professor of anthropology would fire a new fusillade of the same cliches, and I realized that the bait was still being taken.

"I am well aware," writes Eric Engdahl, "of the abuse heaped upon Southern California and its inmates. New Yorkers, of course, led by Woody Allen, seem to have started it."

It started long before Woody Allen, and it was a man from Cambridge, Mass., a Harvard man, Richard Henry Dana, author of "Two Years Before the Mast," who started it. Stopping in San Pedro in 1835, Dana wrote in his diary that Los Angeles looked hazy from there, and he couldn't wait to go on to San Francisco.

Nearly a hundred years later, Henry L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, made the obligatory trip out to "the coast" and reported that "the whole place stank of orange blossoms."

However, Edward Condren, a professor of English at UCLA, has noticed that in the field of academia, which he sees at first hand, Los Angeles is not only no longer a cultural desert, it is the promised land.

"Scarcely anyone disbelieves the accepted wisdom that Los Angeles blots the national copybook," he writes. "I, too, as a native New Yorker, once dined out on that view. But after living here 18 years, and noticing that the behavior of our detractors actually contradicts what they say, I have been completely weaned away."

He admits that, as a Chaucerian scholar, he may have an academic's narrow picture of how he came to be fond of Los Angeles, but the "first revelation," he says, was the city's obvious appeal to "touring intelligentsia."

"Eastern colleagues, who used to take delight--and still do--in their witty critiques of L.A., showed up regularly on the lecture circuit. Stars whom I first met in New Haven and New York, but never saw while I was completing my doctorate in Toronto, had been twinkling regularly in L.A."

He notes that all an Eastern academic has to do to double his salary is mention an invitation from Los Angeles. "Why, in my profession dozens of careers are enhanced every year at the mere suggestion of a visit to Los Angeles, only very few of which actually concern an appointment."

He finally concluded, from these observations, that UCLA must be "the finest academic appointment in the world," whatever one's criteria--"health of budget, access to ancillary careers, flora and fauna, championship athletic teams--UCLA comes out on top."

But the single most important consideration in the Eastern academic's yearning for Los Angeles, Condren says, is the location and climate.

"How warm will academic reputation keep on the banks of the Charles River, never mind the chilly athletic tradition there? And in Chicago they must recruit with bound columns of Mike Royko--what other comfort is there? In Princeton I understand they're trying to flunk Brookie (Brook Shields) to keep their lone enticement around. . . ."

Steve Grant of Thousand Oaks also writes to express his impatience with critics of Los Angeles.

"Did anyone really ask them? Who cares if they like it? What did they expect, anyway? Instant friends waiting to welcome them with open arms? Wood nymphs frolicking midst sylvan glades?

"The first thing they must have learned here is that if they don't like it here, no one really cares. . . . And yet, that very fact of life somehow becomes the nucleus of their larger diatribe against Angst and Alienation in the '80s. A.& A. is a commodity in which Los Angeles has cornered the market. Which is absent from their point of origin.

"And while we're on the subject, is a ticky-tacky tract home in the sunshine really worse than a sturdy tenement (excuse me--brownstone) built to last 100 years (and in its 97th) where the skies are cloudy all day?"

On a different tack, Ray Rosenbaum of Headlines, Ink, a Studio City advertising and publicity firm, notes that in my recent column about the "Los Angelization" of San Diego the word "Angelenos" was in the insert headline.

'Whatever happened to Los Angelenos," Rosenbaum asks, "what people called themselves when we moved here 40 years ago from Chicago?

'New Yorkers aren't Yorkers," he argues; "San Franciscans aren't Franciscans, so why must we be Angelenos? No self-respecting resident of the city of Los Angeles should ever tell anyone he's an Angeleno."

I don't remember that we called ourselves Los Angelenos 40 years ago. Anyway, it wouldn't be correct for us to call ourselves Los Angelenos, unless we meant all of us. Los being a plural article, it must be followed by a plural noun, so Los Angeleno, as a singular, is impossible. I am an Angeleno. You are an Angeleno. We are Angelenos, not Los Angelenos.

By the way, Rosenbaum pointed out that I called the downtown Pacific Dining Car the Pacific Diner. "After 65 years," he notes, "they deserve to be called by their proper name."

Right. Every Angeleno should know that.

And don't think we don't have wood nymphs frolicking midst sylvan glades.

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