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3 Reasons Why I Grew to Love LA


3. LA Doesn't Do Stigma

It always struck me as odd that the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith reportedly did not like Los Angeles. A handful of people close to him even argued that the move to LA, from New York, "killed him," or, at least, contributed to his death.

In Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith, William Todd Schultz relays Smith's take on both cities:

New York
There's just more people that look like I do. Not that ... I don't look any particular way, I don't think. But I'm not the ... People don't stare at me. I don't look outrageous at all. There's always much bigger freaks than me in New York, on every block

But, in LA, Elliott initially claimed he didn't feel "quite right there."

Los Angeles
(LA was full of) falsely tan people with great abs, that wear impossible clothes, and I'm always the scrappiest person walking down the street, and it makes me uncomfortable

Schultz notes that Elliott once told CNN, in reference to LA, that its cartoon image provided "good reason to check it out ... (to) get the cartoon out of the way and see what it's really like there."

That's what I have done. And, on the count of feeling like a freak, I gotta tell ya I'm a bit stunned at Smith's take. As with most things Elliott, there's got to be more to the story.

San Franciscans, through a smug self-righteousness and reputation leftover from the 60s, fool you into believing they're the most tolerant people in the world. That's crap.

Over the years, San Francisco, along with Manhattan, have become the least diverse cities in America. You don't need the Census to tell you this. Just walk around. (Note that I isolate Manhattan from the remaining NYC boroughs, given their obvious diversity). If diversity means upper-income to rich Whites and Asians, I stand corrected.

I'll remain seated.

It's easy to position yourself as a tolerant liberal in San Francisco (or Berkeley) when you don't live next door to "the other." When, no matter how many blocks you move, you see, predominantly, people who look just like you or look like what you expect.

Of course, the homeless -- folks who have become little more than props for urban grit -- in San Francisco are the exception. Many San Franciscans keep homeless people as pets these days, leaving them food and talking with them after buying a morning latte. It makes them feel good about themselves.

Full disclosure: Life in Santa Monica, the city I live in in LA, isn't all that different.

That said, the LA I describe, on the whole, requires an incredible tolerance, if not respectable patience, for diversity. I don't think most San Francisco liberals could hack living in LA districts such as Echo Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz or swaths of West LA. Because they're truly diverse.

You don't just walk down the shopping street and pat a homeless guy on the head each morning. Or attend some feel-good Latin dance class in the Mission District. You live side-by-side with people from all income levels and all corners of the globe, some with ways of living that clash with how we do urbanism in America.

All of this to say, freaks like me (or Elliott Smith) absolutely do not stand out in Los Angeles, especially on the east side of the city I have mapped out. If you don't just look different, but are psychologically flawed, it works out even better for you.

LA has the reputation of being a great place to work as a therapist, psychiatrist or pharmacist. An apparent overabundance of depression and anxiety diagnoses keep the work overflowing.

You know the (probably true) stereotypes: Everybody in LA has a shrink or Everybody in LA is on antidepressants. Sounds horrible at first, but I think it's one of the place's best features.

People who live here have come to not merely shrug off, but accept these designations. What's wrong with seeing a therapist or (and I can see the other side of this coin, no doubt) taking medication to maintain better mental health?

We tend to stigmatize these behaviors as a nation, creating and proliferating a whole host of bigger problems. Stigma kills. It takes the freaks and places them in a panopticon that, for many, leads to the inability to cope. That's not how it is in Los Angeles.

There's comfort in knowing not only that your neighbor might be just as "off" as you are, but there's a 50/50 chance he or she is willing to do the unthinkable, talk about it!

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.
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