In August I spent several days with my friend Carol in Studio City, California. Carol works in the movies as an art department coordinator. She was working then on a film called The Artist, so we partied in the evenings and I entertained myself during the day. I took my mini-cam and explored Ventura Boulevard. I trekked from Laurel Canyon Drive almost to Universal Studio, alongside a relentless stream of traffic. It seemed never to let up. My husband the eco-critic (yes really, he and Robin Murray write books on eco-criticism and the cinema) informed me later that Los Angeles has the most polluted air in America. It certainly seems that way when you breathe it.
Side streets with quaint names like Blue Canyon Road branched off Ventura and twisted up the steep hillsides, but the boulevard was mostly commercial. A sinister atmosphere emanated from the hustle and bustle and mixed with the pollution. Maybe it came from my assumption that so much commerce cannot exist without some corruption or from the bleak depictions of Los Angeles in novels by James Ellroy and Michael Connelly and films like Chinatown and Mulholland Drive. I imagined dark happenings in the seedy motels and massage parlors. I wondered what was cached in the windowless storage facilities. So many businesses exploited parents’ dreams of vicarious stardom: “Comedy Lessons for Kids,” “Children in Film.”
I passed a building of gleaming black glass with a large courtyard behind the tall bars of a fence. The sign on the building said only “Pure Beauty.” A spa, maybe? I must have passed 15 or 20 downscale spas in various strip malls. This could be an upscale spa. But a sign on the gate into the parking lot warned that the place was under “constant video surveillance.” What would happen if I took pictures? Would guys in suits and sunglasses come out and break my camera? Later I searched online and discovered it was just an ordinary spa. Maybe the patrons felt insecure or the facility needed protection from feral gangs of starlets foraging for beauty products.