There's a blackness that comes with the blazing sun in Los Angeles, and every so often, you get that gem of proof, that ear in the grass, swarming with insects.
I was out walking the dogs in Hancock Park the other day, the original money neighborhood of Los Angeles, before even Beverly Hills was a thing. I like to give them a whiff of the high life, a chance to pee on an exquisitely manicured lawn. And they love it, even in the 90 degree heat, which has been the norm lately.
In my “ghetto adjacent” neighborhood of Arlington Heights a couple of minutes away, a heatwave means air conditioners hanging out of windows and dripping down the walls, like the very buildings are perspiring. But in Hancock Park the heat just adds to the place’s hypnotic effect. And Hancock Park is nothing if not a dream sequence.
Home to Howard Hughes and Nat King Cole back in the day, it’s supposedly where Jason Alexander and Manny Pacquiao live now. But you never see them, or anyone else for that matter. The rich love isolation; their neighborhoods have that hum. So as always we had the place to ourselves, a neighborhood of immaculate alienation. It’s all vanishing points and perfection out here, with not a soul to be seen, only whispering trees and flawless lawns and great clouds of roses billowing up the paths to the front doors.
The mansions are grand and strong in the old money style, but still as pretty as cakes with frosting for moulding that you can just walk up and scoop off, like Hansel and Gretel. And there’s none of those bars on the windows you find in the shitty duplexes a few blocks away. Here, the windows present themselves in long polished panes, showing you your reflection gazing in from the street. That’s you in a $10 million home. Imagine.
Then I notice this wisp catch the light ahead of me. It’s as fine as a thread of smoke and then it’s gone, so I try to follow it as I keep walking, see where it leads. And then suddenly I see it – a scramble of legs and a bulbous black body. There’s a fucking Black Widow inches from my face, perfectly camouflaged, it turns out, by the gorgeous tableau of wealth and gardens behind it.
Had I not noticed that wisp of silk, had I been checking my phone or fussing with the dogs, I’d have walked into it – one more step and it’d be on my face, in my mouth, on my eyeball, stabbing its poison into my retina, until I writhe and die on the pristine grass verge, waiting for the sprinklers to dousemy stiffening corpse.
I can’t do spiders at the best of times. I’m what’s known by psychologists as a “pussy” – so it’s perfect that LA chose a spider to remind me of death in the afternoon. But LA spiders will fuck you up. The brown recluse might look like nothing, but its venom melts like acid and leaves craters in your flesh. And this one, with the red hourglass on her belly, she'll send you straight to Hades. (Well, only if you’re a frail toddler, or a senior, but still…).
Far as I could tell, she'd strung her thread from the railing of a garden on the right, all the way across the pavement to the branch of a sapling. She was building a web to catch pedestrians, but it was still in its early stages, just a few core ropes.
There’s a reason noir is so intrinsic to LA. The shade has always been as dark as the sun is bright here. A city won through war with Mexico, and riven ever since with bloody class conflict and open corruption, Los Angeles was never quite the Xanadu that it promised, even in the 20s when George Hancock, an oil man, founded this neighborhood for the white elite.
Those were the years of prohibition, the seedbed for the gangsterism and murder of Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel. And the ugliness would surface too, sprout right up out of the earth. When Nat King Cole moved in, the KKK thought to burn a cross in his front yard by way of a welcome gift. No chestnuts were roasted by that open fire.
Mulholland Drive may be David Lynch’s masterpiece about LA but it was Blue Velvet, shot in North Carolina, that feels relevant today. Peel back the veneer of perfect suburbia and insects are the first thing we see. When the sun casts shadows for so much of the year, it’s no wonder that whole ecosystems grow there.