Keep it simple, silly

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

This city is growing so fast there doesn’t seem to be enough room for everyone. Half the people at the hostel I’m staying at have moved here but have nowhere else to live.

Melissa is a beautiful young woman who, like so many others, has come here to act. From Minnesota, here relative innocence concerns me. So many stories abound of beautiful young women like her coming here with stars in their eyes and ending up in tears. There are too many people willing to take advantage of people like her, and too few to help her.

A fast talking guy collecting money for kids with AIDS brought the message home strongly. He told me how it was illegal to sleep under doorways here in Santa Monica, how it was against the law to give people food. He has been working with homeless people for years and is appalled at the latest laws. He told me how the stars liked to hang out here, and how they didn’t want to be surrounded by poverty like that. I asked him about all the bleeding hearts we see on the television and he told me it was all just part of their act. “They’ll ask you what kind of car you drive and where you live,” he said, “And if the answer isn’t the latest Mercedes or Lexus and a house on the beach, then forget it. They’re not interested in you.” There are people like this everywhere, I know: people who try to shield their insecurities with money and possessions. This is not unusual. But I guess it just occurred to me that these same people could each pitch in a few dollars towards the sort of support and facilities that could get the people that so offend them off the street, instead of blindly trying to deny their existence by attempting to ban them from existing. I’m sure they’d be happier for it, and it couldn’t hurt their PR.

Patricia is a single mother of a college girl. In her forties, at a guess, she’s done it all and she’s still doing it hard. Her daughter has gone to private schools but Patricia is living in a hostel, temping at a law firm and trying to find a shared apartment for under $800 a month. She wants to be a writer, but how she’s ever going to find the space in her life to do this is beyond me. Not so long ago she was running a restaurant, but the economy went bad and in one season it was all over. We don’t hear too much about the US economy going bad; the stats they choose to show us have been worked in such a way to minimise the evidence, but Patricia seems to know all about it. She was caught in the middle of it.

You wouldn’t know about a bad economy here in Santa Monica, though. At least I can’t see it. Expensive cars, expensive clothes, lots of trendy shops, ads for Botox and plastic surgery. No, if the economy’s gone bad here they’re doing a great job of keeping up pretences.

But I guess it’s a question of proportion. Some people have more than ever, some have less, and maybe the measure of an economy’s health is where the people in the middle are at.

And I don’t believe they’re here in Santa Monica.


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