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Jack Smith

A critic of L.A. arrived on 'front lines of a trend'; : may her decision to return home be part of another

February 27, 1986|JACK SMITH

Carol Schmidt, a neighbor of mine on Mt. Washington, had an essay in the View section the other day about why she is going home to Michigan after 16 years in Los Angeles.

I hate to see Ms. Schmidt leave our neighborhood with hard feelings, but I admit that the picture she draws of our city is forbidding.

She says gangs inhabit her neighborhood, police helicopters keep her awake at night, she finds spent shells on a dirt road behind her house, several "thoroughbred" dogs have disappeared, and she has been robbed or burglarized five times in four years.

I don't know what quarter of Mt. Washington Ms. Schmidt lives in, but I hope that when she leaves the action doesn't move in our direction.

I realize that our continued tranquility is not guaranteed. There have been burglaries in our neighborhood, dogs and cats disappear all the time, though I doubt that there were ever any thoroughbred dogs among them, or even purebred, for that matter; and we are pestered by children selling cookies, candy or magazine subscriptions to raise money for band uniforms or something equally frivolous.

As for the dogs and cats that disappear, I doubt that they're rubbed out by gangs. I suspect that they're picked off by the coyotes that roam our hill. If Ms. Schmidt is scared of coyotes, she ought to remember that they have wolves in Michigan.

We see police helicopters once in a while, and we are usually rooting for them. We hope they catch the rascals. But the only time one ever came close was when I called the cops for a little girl who thought her house was being burglarized. It turned out to be a false alarm, but the cops gave us a good show. I mean they were there .

I don't remember that I have ever been awakened by a helicopter. Evidently Ms. Schmidt sleeps nervously.

She also complains of spending two hours in a traffic jam when she tried to get to her extension class at UCLA on a rainy night, and of finding no place to park when she got there.

She indicates that she went out Olympic Boulevard. Why would anyone who has lived in Los Angeles 16 years go from downtown to UCLA on Olympic Boulevard when they have the Santa Monica Freeway? Of course the freeway would be jammed, too, but at least she wouldn't be infuriated by the realization that she had outsmarted herself by taking a surface street. Only people from Michigan do that.

One good way to tell newcomers is that they're eager to find some way of "beating the freeways." When they invite you to their house they give you all kinds of intricate directions over streets and past landmarks you have never heard of, and consequently you get lost and when you arrive the hors d'oeuvres are all gone.

Anyway, no one who knows Los Angeles would leave home to drive from Mt. Washington to UCLA on a rainy night. It's like leaving home in Michigan to go to school in a blizzard. When it rains, Los Angeles is a disaster area. Best thing to do is get a good book and curl up under the forced air heat.

Ms. Schmidt tells of driving off a would-be purse snatcher by remembering her anti-rape defense training and roaring at him. Thus accosted, the poor fellow said, "No offense, ma'am," and ran off. I wouldn't count on finding street thieves that polite in Michigan.

One of Ms. Schmidt's amiable recollections of Michigan is that the billboards there show "more realistic women," and one doesn't have to be "thin, young, blond, tanned, athletic and beautiful to be seen as a worthwhile human being."

When she tried to get a job in public relations, she says, she found herself competing with this "California girl" stereotype. I doubt that there is any escape from pretty young women in Michigan, even if they aren't suntanned. What do the billboards feature back there? Plump, middle-aged housewives out of Norman Rockwell? How do they advertise panty hose, lipstick, jeans and cognac?

I don't really mean to find fault with Ms. Schmidt's vision of Los Angeles. I'm sure to her it seems the horror she says it is. And she notes that her rent here is three times what it would be in Michigan.

An interesting point is that she thinks of herself as being "on the front lines of a trend," as she was when she left Michigan for Los Angeles 16 years ago.

"I have to get out of this insane asylum and get back to clean air, nice people, country roads, affordable prices, easy living," she says. "I understand that there's a new move afoot to do just that. . . . I hope no one discovers my town of 2,000 in the thumb of Michigan, near where I attended a one-room country schoolhouse in the late 1940s. . . . I know I am remembering a romanticized picture of the past . . . but my visits home tell me that life goes on in the vast stretches of America with some semblance of sanity. . . ."

It does sound idyllic, and I hope Ms. Schmidt is happy when she goes back. I also hope she's right, and that thousands of other midlanders will pull up stakes, leave our city of horrors and go back where they came from.

We certainly have too many people here now, and to that degree it will be less horrible.

Of course we who live in the asylum don't know we're crazy.

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