Books: The Dreaming Swimmer — L.A. Lore |
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L.A. Lore

LOS ANGELES is so big, so productive, so wealthy, that if it broke away from the United States it would still have a bigger economy than India. Or do I mean Indiana? The statistics on Los Angeles are so fascinating that even I should be able to remember them, but somehow I can’t. They make aeroplanes there. They make everything there. But what gets my attention is that they make stars there. Beside that glaring fact, all other facts are just data.

Millions of desperate people swim north from Mexico so that they can get jobs in Los Angeles. Some of them don’t, and join gangs. The gangs go to war with each other, using automatic weapons. I should have been standing in the middle of all that with my camera crew, making an earnest documentary about the breakdown of modern urban civilisation. Why, instead, was I gripped by the idea of interviewing the barber who created Tom Cruise’s hairstyle for Rain Man?

In Los Angeles it isn’t easy to stay sane. The whole place is dedicated to making a middle-aged man with dandruff on his shoulders feel that with the right breaks and a bit of exercise before breakfast he, too, could look like Tom Berenger. Physical beauty is the norm here. All the waitresses look like actresses — and indeed, on being asked, or even before they are asked, turn out to be actresses, waiting for the break. Everyone is waiting for the break.

But of course they don’t really wait for the break. They do everything they can to bring it about. Everyone is auditioning all the time. Like any other bald man in Hollywood I was constantly mistaken for a producer, since it is widely assumed that only a man so powerful would be arrogant enough to go around in daylight without a thick growth of hair, not necessarily his own, covering his skull. Consequently, every time I stopped for petrol I was assailed by some forecourt attendant loudly playing both parts in the climactic love scene from Gone with the Wind.

They’re all at it, all the time. Supermarket checkout girls mutter speeches by Ibsen. Roller-towel maintenance engineers study horse-riding at night-school. People improve themselves until no more improvement is physically or mentally possible. Then they wait for the break.

Soon I, too, was waiting for the break. Instead of heading downtown to do some basic research on those gang leaders — one of them had promised not to shoot me if I gave him a signed photo of Mrs Thatcher — I found myself looking in a mirror and wondering. I wondered why, when I was so much younger than Paul Newman, that I looked so much older than Paul Newman. All right, than Paul Newman’s father.

I was uncomfortably aware that in Los Angeles there is a whole service industry dedicated to helping men who feel like that do something about it. They can rebuild you from top to toe. They can even move your top and your toe further apart. All you have to do is pick up a phone.

What happened when I dialled that fatal call is the story of Thursday’s film. It is the story of a man who goes in search of a dream and comes back to himself, but only after having covered the entire Los Angeles freeway system, largely on foot. See it soon at a screen near you.

Radio Times, 22–28 September, 1990

[ Postcard from Los Angeles ]