Twenty years ago, I went with a friend back to our former hometown, to see if we could reconnect with a cobber we hadn't seen in a while. Our friend wasn't home, but his parents invited us to stay for supper, so we helped set the table, then pulled up chairs and sat down.
Our friend's younger brother and a classmate of his joined us. These guys had just graduated from high school. My friend and I were demonstrably wet-behind-the-ears, but these guys were still shedding afterbirth. The classmate was slight, blonde, and wildly in love with the sound of his own voice. We heard of his motorcycle exploits (no small-town 18-year-old should own a "sport" bike with 1100 ccs of motor. Nothing good can come of it), California, teachers they'd played pranks on, California, the loser girls in this town, how great California was, California beach culture, the girls, how "we gotta move to California, man!"...
I finally exploded. "Have you even been to California? Los Angeles? Venice Beach? Hollywood? It's a parking lot, 500 miles of ashpalt in any direction - except West, where you'll find the toilet you fondly refer to as 'The Surf'!"
This may have been peppered with a few expletives.
My poor hosts. Those poor kids! These unsuspecting entertainers didn't realize I'd just come back from a motorcycle trip, and that California hadn't exactly been the "highlight" (Montana was, actually - great state for bikes). The irony was, prior to the trip California had the precisely adolescent sheen my scrawny tormentor was so taken with. My experience quickly disabused me of all that. It hadn't been so much the scary, nihilistic thrills of Welcome to the Jungle as it had been the deep-seeded weariness and boredom of Ecclesiastes.
My tormentor stretched languidly, and yawned. In the middle of this he sang, "So was that where you went? Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Hollywood?" I grit my teeth, nodded. My tormentor slumped back over the table, and fiddled with his food. "You just went to the wrong places," he said. "You gotta go further south, where I like to go: Malibu, San Diego...."
Dear God, twenty years later I still want to grab this punk by the ears and give his head a shake - even though I've reached the same conclusion: I went to the wrong places. My anger, of course, is directed at the presentation (a cockiness corn-fed by his parents' money), not the proposal (there are wonderful experiences unique to California). Remove the cockiness, and I'm left with a proposition that bewilders me: what takes me so long to find the "fun" in pretty much any given environment?
I fastened myself to Gramsci's maxim the first time I heard it (in an interview with Paul Auster): Optimism of the spirit; pessimism of the intellect. I suspect, however, I let the pessimism of my "intellect" bleed too frequently into my spirit - hardly the ideal condition for appreciating the finer qualities of California.