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Christopher and His Diaries

February 02, 1997

May 17, 1939

Toward evening, we came into downtown Los Angeles--perhaps the ugliest city on Earth. It was Saturday night, and the streets were swarming with drunks. We saw three sailors carrying a girl into a house, as though they were going to eat her alive.

Next day, we took a taxi into Hollywood. I was amazed at the size of the city, and at its lack of shape. There seemed no reason why it should ever stop. Miles and miles of little houses, wooden or stucco, under a Technicolor sky. Miles of little gardens crowded with blossoms and flowering bushes; the architecture is dominated by the vegetation. A city without privacy, where neighbors share each other's lawns and look into each other's bedrooms. The whole place like a world's fair, quite new and already partly in ruins. The only permanent buildings are the schools and the churches. On the hill, giant letters spell "Hollywoodland," but this is only another advertisement. It is silly to say that Hollywood, or any other city, is "unreal." But what the arriving traveler first sees are merely advertisements for a city which doesn't exist.

January 4, 1940

Lectured to an English class at the Beverly Hills High, on Expressionist drama. The teachers were rather depressing--hanging on to Culture by their eyelids. The pupils, in their casual, friendly way, were quite responsive. You could catch their attention for about a quarter of a minute at a time. The girls are powdered and painted, elaborately dolled up. The boys dress like tramps--in a gaudy, ragbag assortment of sweatshirts, lumber-jackets, jeans and cords. There is no discipline whatsoever, in the European sense. The lecturer is merely allowed, by courtesy, to speak a little louder than the class. But--having seen the beautifully planned classrooms, the wonderfully equipped theater, the swimming baths, the gymnasium and the library--one can't help wondering; how long will this strange homage to education continue at all? The barbarian students are so much more vital than the culture they are supposed to be acquiring. This place is simply a temple to a dead religion. Study has become a cult, fossilized in ritual. Most of the questions they asked me were basically economic in interest. For example: "Can the theater compete with the movies?" When the bell rang, they stopped me instantly, by clapping.

July 7, 1940

Vernon and I drove to Laguna Beach with Tony Bower. Why does one make these excursions? . . . Sunday--that aimless trek of ten thousand cars along the wide black well-marked roads. Fifty miles out, lunch, supper, fifty miles home. The only incidents--the unexpected size of the bill, or a minor collision, or a police ticket. Grumbling, the sententious repetition of opinions from newspaper articles, dyspeptic nostalgia awakened by a glimpse of lithe figures running on the beach. The reliable image of the ocean. The men are nervous and irritable; the women placid. They have their eternal themes: clothes, illnesses, the neighbors' habits. Ritual behavior surviving an extinct art--the art of enjoyment. What we have left are the habits, and the machinery which serves the habits.

Few of us any longer know how to enjoy anything--a game, a glass of wine, even a swim in the ocean. Gerald speaks of the "boy-meets-girl" group as though these people were happy, at least on their own level. But they seldom are. Because boy no longer knows how to meet girl.

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