vanity of vanities


Driving west on Manchester from Crenshaw, I noticed the neon sign for the Love Divine Chapel looked a little worse for wear: dirty, chipped, lacking in light. Neon signs always look a little depressed when they aren’t turned on, but I imagine that even when the giant L-O-V-E shone in the night it would still look dingy. The tiny meeting hall beside the sign needed paint and repair, the revival bus parked in the miniscule lot needed new tires. The homeless man holding up the hand-scrawled cardboard “Need Food” sign didn’t seem to notice the irony of standing beneath dingy love.

Further down Manchester, the planes coming into LAX paralleled the avenue, low and seeming-slow, though I knew they were speeding over the depressed neighborhoods below.

Customers lined up twenty deep at Randy’s Donuts. Even if you’re not from L.A. or have never been here, you’ve probably seen Randy’s Donuts in some montage or other: it’s the gigantic donut sitting on top of the tiny building right off the freeway. A sort of emblem of L.A. in it’s way. The space shuttle parked outside it for awhile, resting on its cross-town journey from LAX to the Museum of Science and Industry.

Randy’s is a kind of demarcation point between the poorer neighborhoods and the gradual swing to upscale as you head west. As the blocks whiz by the prices of rent and purchase gradually rise towards affluent Westchester. My parents bought in when Westchester was still a down at the heels lower middle class neighborhood, but it got “discovered” in the nineties and it’s fully gentrified now. Anything west of Sepulveda Boulevard is pretty pricy.

As I got closer to Sepulveda I saw a giant billboard advertising a place where they freeze fat for cosmetic reasons. I don’t even want to think about that too much. “Fear No Mirror” the billboard declared in far larger letters than the LOVE of the Divine Chapel. I realized we’d moved from the land of Fear No Evil to the land of Vanity of Vanities.

I fear no mirrors, comfortable in my aging skin, even as another birthday approaches. I do fear the fear of mirrors, however.  There is peace in accepting the passage of time, the transformation of the flesh, but we don’t live in an age—and I don’t live in a city—that accepts such peace. Rather the hard lessons of perpetually hard bodies, ever in denial, ever running too fast to stop and listen to the soft words of the soul.  What evils have been wrought in the name of vanity, and continue to be wrought. Yea, verily.

You know, there’s a lot to be said for growing old gracefully. There’s also a lot to be said about people looking like people, not some over-idealized ancient supermodel. However, I’m not going to say it. Talk amongst yourselves.