Last week, I got sick. Sick with a lung infection, with a fever, sick with some goddamn thing that turned my lungs into mucus-filled bags of pain and made all kinds of indescribable shit run out of my nose. Sick in the way people who huff paint in the slums of Calcutta must get sick. And why? I went running on a hot day and ended up behind a bus for three blocks on an afternoon when the air quality near downtown could have been described as, “chewy,” or “opaque.” By the time I got home I was infected with something people in most habitable portions of the world consider less than threatening: air. Do you understand this? Is it sinking in? Breathing made me sick in Los Angeles. Breathing. I wasn’t outside licking the sidewalk or eating old chicken out of a homeless guy’s beard behind El Pollo Loco, I was performing the necessary act of respiration in and around my home, and it gave me a disease that threatened to shut down my pancreas. This goads me in two ways. First, you know you live in a disgusting urban wasteland when the very act of trying to do something healthy (i.e. the running) is the one thing that actually makes you ill. And two: The vast and satisfying feeling of moral and physical superiority I have felt for years over Michael Jackson and all those legions of urban Asians who wear surgical masks and carry umbrellas whenever they go outside? Gone. Demolished. Those people are now my equal, and were right all along, and that pisses me off.
If there’s one thing to admire about L.A. despite this, however, it’s this: This is the town where you can’t smoke a cigarette anywhere. Oh, no, Christ no, don’t you dare light that up around people who might breathe it in second-hand – it might taint the pollution they’re constantly inhaling. It’s that kind of audacious hypocrisy that makes this city one that, weirdly, I can find a way to love.
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