this city has no face / by laurel

I am being worked over by a seventeen-year-old girl.

She is unhappy with her senior picture, she wants retakes. She doesn’t want to pay for retakes, though, because she feels she is entitled to any sort of freebie she can milk from us. Her friends cluster behind her, the Lip Gloss Posse. I’d roll my eyes if I knew I wouldn’t get fired, so instead my voice registers in the breathy falsetto designated for unwanted customer service.

Carmen-High-Schooler scrunches up her face and tries to explain why her photos are so retarded. She is antsy and reeks of musky floral perfume. There is only one person on her radar, and it is herself. If only this were an isolated incident.

Often I wonder if this “Me” mentality is somehow intrinsically linked to a life spent growing up in petrie-dish Los Angeles: a city with no distinct narrative other than what it writes for itself every few years as a matter of narcissistic reinvention. We’ve been raised in a culture constantly obsessed with redefining itself.

In preceding generations, it was the 20-somethings who sought to erase their history and rewrite the story of their life: Location, religious affiliation, political leanings, carnivore or vegetarian. Now that insatiable need for reinterpretation has trickled down into this generation’s seventeen-year-olds.

Kids are growing up in a venerable beef stew of cultures and ideas (although perhaps ‘beef stew’ is deemed a bit too passé for the vegan-is-my-religion set). The Melting Pot that often defines the slew of zip codes and zoning infrastructure in which we live is a manmade city. Freeway systems snake through squeaky-clean modernist skyscrapers, punching holes in the smog above—another manmade contribution. The water from which any city derives its livability doesn’t have an address in Los Angeles. One must be reminded of our manmade kingdom by simply noticing its aqueducts. Ours is a city whose identity is contained entirely in the minds of its inhabitants. There is no external truth to the city other than what our postmodern ideals assign to it.

Today I am: 22, toying with the idea of an ancient Eastern religion embraced (if not partially created) by celebrities. I’m organic, and the dense population of whole foods markets embrace this position. I shop at the Buffalo Exchange.

Tomorrow I’ll be: 17. I live in Loz Feliz (which was designated hip spot of the moment a few years back, and continues to thrive as a community adjacent to Silverlake worth name-dropping). I shop at Bebe and pin the bottoms of my stretch jeans so they’re tapered. Tapered is so sexy. Sequins are sexy, too, or any sort of embellishment that catches the weakened rays of the sun and send it bouncing into the eyes of my classmates—who don’t live in Loz Feliz.

Might the constant reinvention that is so brutally au courant take its toll? Today’s generation has no past; only a brief synopsis dreamed up by the schemers and dreamers who came before them. We live manmade lives of creature comforts with You Deserve! Ad campaigns. ‘Sexy’ is a term delineated to mean anything pertaining to right now, and very much desirable. We operate on the grid of a well-planned infrastructure that mainly functions on the voracious consumer consumption of those sexy creature comforts. We are allowed—encouraged!—to reinvent ourselves constantly: erasing our past selves, and drawing up the blueprints for whoever we want to be at the time. It doesn’t help that everything’s acceptable—thought, politics, religion, things that are true, things that are false; morality.

Have we created a monster out of ourselves? An intelligent, thinking beast whose thoughts are wiped out and upgraded every new season based on the thoughts of media conglomerates? Do we derive our pleasures, our pains, or very identities from a city who has no narrative? A city without a face; made up to be whatever we want it to be. We are floaters; drifters. Like walking ghosts who pass through concrete walls because we have no physical presence to keep us grounded in physics. An entire generation of ghosts, with no past and a future left entirely up to them. No wonder the lines dividing right from wrong are so blurred.

We live in a culture where celebrities are embraced based upon who they project themselves to be right now. Remember when Madonna was a home-wrecking enemy of the Southern Baptist preacher whose sexiness and sex-crazedness caused a country to gasp in fascination and horror? Probably not, because Madonna has reinvented herself. She is now a home-maker, deeply religious, performing and writing music—a musician and an artist, thank-you-very-much.

We bomb ourselves to smithereens, leaving nothing but the ashy shell of what used to be. Now we have a blank canvas. Now we have a clean slate. Now we can rebuild our infrastructure and rewrite our history as though it started today, right now. A roamer. Free from the confines of ever putting down roots in anything. Free to do whatever I want, or whatever I think I’m entitled to.

At the studio, Carmen-High-Schooler is still bitching about her photo. “I look retarded, you guys!” She insists in a nasally whine no doubt acquired through the continual erosion of her parents’ giving in to her every whining whim. “I look 80’s, or something. Like 1985.”

I realize that she wasn’t even alive in 1985.

I notice that she has Rod Stewart hair, tapered jeans, and slip-ons.

I realize that she probably has no idea that she is the poster child for 80’s revival chic.

I realize the only thought going through her mind when she bought those pants was,

Tapered is so sexy.
I want to be sexy.