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Summer Guide

The unseasonable L.A.

May 22, 2003|James Verini | Special to The Times

From the window of my apartment in the Hollywood Ardmore -- a late 1950s, Vegas-chic pile of aquamarine tile and stucco that in the summer sun glimmers over Franklin Heights, I like to think, like a Tunisian palace -- I can see the upper reaches of Dodger Stadium popping out of Elysian Park. From October to April, this doesn't mean anything. During the "winter," as Angelenos call all the months that aren't technically summer, the stadium is just a dormant concrete circle, a silent reminder of dashed playoff dreams, drawing unfavorable comparison to that roofed, air-conditioned upstart to the south. (You can almost hear it whispering to Staples Center: "One day you'll learn the meaning of patience.")

But every year, in mid-April, there is one night in which that all changes. It is always a surprise. I will come home, most likely with a sweater on, to find my living room awash in the glow of blinding lights. "Great heavens," I cry out. "Have Spielberg's worst fears been realized -- here, in a rent-controlled, two-bedroom apartment?" And then I recall with relief: No, no aliens. It's just the Dodgers' first night game. Once again.

It is a welcome sight. The lights of the stadium cut through the still-cold night air, flouting winter and all things winter-related. On the opening of the Dodgers' first night game, I sit there, bleached, squinting at the bulbs, admiring their pluck. "Summer has come!" I yell from the 11th floor of the Ardmore. And I rip off my sweater -- for good.

To people from, say, Kansas or Reykjavik, the notion that Angelenos talk about the changing of seasons is laughable. They assume that there are no seasons in Los Angeles, that this is the land of perpetual summer. Climatically speaking, they may have a point, and they won't drop it when we tell them we haven't worn shorts in weeks. But what they don't see is that in Los Angeles the changing of seasons isn't a climatic affair. Here, seasons are, above all, aesthetic. They are psychological.

The signs of summer in L.A. are also more personal. For me, the defining image is the lights of Dodger Stadium. But I face east. For my neighbors on the west side of the building, with the deck they won't let you forget about, summer is the concentric circles of the hibachi and the slightly lascivious curvature of a sweating bottle of Pacifico in the waning light.

For the souvenir-shop owner down on Hollywood Boulevard, summer is the prodigious gut of a tourist sheathed, ideally, in a white mesh tank top. For his son, summer is not so much an image as the absence of one -- of an entire color, even: school-bus yellow. While in the Valley, it is that particular hue of gold that the 7 p.m. sun gives the horizon (compare that with the near-sunless gray horizon at 4 p.m. in winter), and in Santa Monica it's the particular deep blue-green that faster-moving molecules and an increased algae count give the Pacific.

Summer in L.A.: It's not about temperatures or customs -- at least until we get a football team or someone opens Hamptons West. It is about perceptions. It's always summer here if you want it to be -- but what would be the fun of that? No one wants to be happy all the time.

So, as you're driving to the beach next weekend, the question to ask yourself is not, "Is it June yet?" but, "Do I feel like June yet? Are the colors and light just right? Does this towel even suggest early summer?" If the answer is yes, keep on driving. If no, turn around and go back to the heated pool. Wait a day, and ask again. That's how fast the seasons can change around here.

(Listings not included.)

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