Iíve always tried to be true to myself. Thatís what I picked up from the after-school specials, anyway: never forget who you are, where you came from. Donít let other people define you. Define yourself.
Recently, however, new experiences have taken me to a murkier place. Itís not something I expected to happen, but as a result I am no longer so easily put in this box or that box. And at the risk of alienating some of my family and friends, I have to face up to the way I feel, who I am. Because of my job, I spend about half my time on the East Coast, and the other half on the West Coast. And the truth is, Iím really attracted to both lifestyles. Yes, itís time I admitted it: Iím bi-coastal.
Until recently, I had been a lifelong Bostonian, and there is much to like. Itís tough for other cities to match the intellectual and cultural climate. I donít know if itís the universities or the history or just having access to minds like Ray Flynnís, but Bostonís just got a certain je ne sais quoi. (And you donít get exposed to elegant French phrases like that just anywhere, I might add.)
Perhaps Iím being a tad presumptuous, not having soaked in the intellectual and cultural climate of every other major American city. But I think I stand on pretty firm ground here. Take the symphony, for instance: ads for the BSO try to lure you with the music itself ó itís "Bartókís Piano Concerto No. 1, Wednesday at 8 p.m." In Los Angeles the ads are more like, "The Los Angeles Philharmonic ... Maybe you wonít hate it." So in a cerebral sense, Boston quickly becomes part of who you are. Plus, you talk differently. You love to watch Nomar run the bases. You become so East Coast that people from the Midwest look at you like youíre some kind of freak. Itís not so much a lifestyle choice as ... well, letís just say Iíve always felt like I was born that way.
So I never really expected to enjoy being in Los Angeles, or having Los Angeles be in me. From a very early age I was taught to look down on Angelenos. In the mid í80s, I can even remember being a part of a chorus of people chanting, "Beat LA! Beat LA!" We viewed them as people who lacked a moral center. They were always doing things just because they were trendy.
But then I moved there. And instantly, I could see obvious advantages. First, of course, was the weather. When you grow up in Boston, you quickly learn to recite the line about how much you like the seasons, and oh, how youíd miss the autumnal display of color. And itís true ó there is nothing in Los Angeles to compare to those crisp, clear New England days when the foliage is at its peak. All three of them. Out here we may not have color, but we do have about 90 days of crisp and clear ó itís called winter. If that doesnít grab ya, just imagine a world where it is never necessary to tune into Dick Albert. I donít know about you, but I was instantly curious about that world. And soon I found myself indulging in the limitless recreational opportunities Los Angeles has to offer.
At the same time, itís never been enough to make me go completely West Coast. Sure, itís been new and exciting, but when you grow up East Coast you learn that you should never take yourself too seriously ó unless, of course, you have a graduate degree. Take yourself too seriously, and you can be sure your friends will soon be mocking you right back down to earth: "Bill, youíre a systems analyst and you live in Malden. Take the leather pants off."
People in Los Angeles donít discourage that kind of behavior; rather, they climb over each other to emulate it. If Jay-Z appeared in a video with his face dotted with bits of tissue heíd used to clot his shaving mistakes, the next day youíd see Scotties-spotted hipsters on the streets of LA wondering if the mistakes go better with their pantsí legs up or down. Just about every day I walk by someone with light-blue trim on their shirt that matches the light-blue color of their pants that matches the light-blue tint of their sunglasses. I mean, some of these people are so flamboyantly West Coast they even offend me. I know weíre on the same side and all, but do they have to rub everyoneís faces in it?
Perhaps I shouldnít judge. Maybe Iím just on edge because now comes the tough part: returning East and trying to convince my friends Iím the same person I was before I went West. I feel that if I use the wrong phrase or wear something other than a sensible pair of Dockers, Iím going to get the "I donít even know you anymore" speech. Or worse, theyíre going to wonder if I always wanted to talk like that, or if I always wanted to wear new clothes and just didnít tell anyone.
Thatís probably just nerves talking. Once the initial shock wears off, Iím sure my good friends will see that whether someone is East Coast or West Coast or somewhere in between, it really doesnít matter. But Iíve also seen enough after-school specials to know thereís always that one friend, the popular jock, the one whoíll abandon you when he realizes youíre different, that hanging around you puts his suburban street cred in jeopardy. And in some situation designed to provide maximum embarrassment, heíll say something like, "So ... howís Santa Monica?"
And what can you say to that but, "Hey, man. Iím here, and I also live by the pier. Get used to it."
Jay Jaroch can be reached at email@example.com
Issue Date: May 9 - 15, 2003
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