This is not my first spring in L.A., but it feels like it.
It’s been three and a half years since I moved back from New York. I’ll admit that when I moved away from New York, I was tempted to write an essay. It’s a rite of passage, the “leaving New York” essay. It’s not so much an essay as an apologia, a way of defending oneself. See, if I write down the reasons why I left New York, then you can’t think me weak for leaving. It’s the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me.”
I didn’t ever write it, because no one cared. There are more than enough New Yorkers and former New Yorkers writing about New York. Besides, I was happy to be back in L.A. I’d missed California. Although when I did miss New York, it felt like a gut punch. It was very specific things that I missed, and it was often just memories of walks. Walking from the East Village down to Chinatown on a warm night, from the Upper West Side to Chelsea on a cold night. Trekking up to Fort Tryon Park to see if we could better see a meteor shower from there, and lying on the ground looking up at the thick, orange-tinted cloud cover to watch what looked like tiny grains of sand streaking through the sky. Walking with my then-boyfriend through Central Park, hearing faraway music, and bursting into laughter when we realized it was the carousel playing a tinny version of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.”
The one thing I miss the most, though, is the thing I never thought I would. I missed summer in New York.
Summers in New York are notoriously disgusting, and I hated them while I was living there. The humidity seemed to trap all the smells and pollution all around you, you felt grimy just walking down the street. Sudden thunderstorms brought migraines and ruined clothes. The air conditioners on the subway trains worked so hard they actually made the subway platforms ten degrees hotter, and walking into the stations felt like descending into hell. I remember one summer night, when I was living on St. Marks Place, when it was too hot to sleep. We had no air conditioning and heat was rising from the cars and restaurants and throngs of people outside into our tiny bedrooms. Finally I filled up a cup of water, poured the entire thing onto my bed, and lay back down. Utterly disgusting, I know, but it did help me cool off enough to sleep.
There was something about that level of absurdity, though, that felt like a respite. Living in New York was so hurried and harried, but you couldn’t help but take things a little more slowly, and a little less seriously, in the summer. There was a sense of everything easing up, because there was no other option. So we suffered through the hot, sticky days together, and wandered more in the long daylight hours, and long into the night.
Summer in L.A., once you’re out of school, doesn’t really feel any different than any other season. You’ve already been wearing shorts and sandals (and if you’re good, sunscreen) all year long. It’s hot and dry and sunny, L.A. at its apotheosis. But I still prefer it to spring. Spring has always been my least favorite season. This is a bold statement, I know, considering I have very bad Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter. But I actually don’t mind the cold so much. (The way I see it, I love winter, but winter does not love me back.) I know that spring represents change and warmth, but it just doesn’t feel that for me. Maybe it’s because April means my mother’s yarzheit, but that’s only one day in a season. More likely it’s because I’ve never really lived anywhere that had a proper spring. My last few years in New York, we went straight from icy, wintry Aprils to prickly-hot Mays. People suggested it was climate change, or just wondered aloud where our springs had gone. Meanwhile, spring in L.A. always just felt like summer junior: we started going to the beach and the pool in April at the latest. “I guess it’s spring, I didn’t know. It’s always 75 with no melting snow,” ” as the Rilo Kiley song goes.
The idea of four distinct seasons is something of a Eurocentric, Northeast US-centric idea, anyway. I’ve heard that Indigenous people of the L.A. basin believed we had two seasons: the dry season and the wet season. I’d say that’s right, though the dry season is twice as long as the wet season, so people tend to forget the latter exists.Maybe there is something, though. An end to the wet season, a drying-out period, something you could call spring.
I only noticed it when I went out last week. I wanted to take a walk so I could give Anna some space, and listen to “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” for the first time on my own. I took back streets to try to avoid other pedestrians, and wore a mask. I haven’t gone out in public without once since the lockdown, and honestly, I’ve felt a bit judgmental of those who have gone out without them. My hypochondria has reached historic heights right now, and we’re supposed to be wearing them, anyway. But when I saw a gorgeous new jasmine plant, I double-checked to see if anyone was around, then lowered my mask to take a deep inhale.
My first breath was pure, new jasmine, the scent of so many of my memories. Then I took a second breath, and took in the air around it. It was also clean and pure, but there was something else in it, something I couldn’t identify. I didn’t know what it was, all I know was that it smelled like spring. Spring in L.A., spring in the Valley, with Spring Dance recitals and lemonade stands and running in the sprinklers. Something I’d never thought I’d missed. Something I’d never thought I’d experienced. And I felt a deep sense of sorrow, because now it was mostly lost to me, to all of us. I hadn’t felt sad about having to stay inside before.
I put my mask back on and walked on, but wondered if I would have noticed the change in season if I hadn’t been quarantined. Maybe it’s like how when you see a baby, or even a puppy or kitten all the time, you don’t notice them growing so much. Then you don’t for a little bit, and when you see them again, they seem to have grown up all at once. It just can’t be noticed when you’re with them, when you’re in it.
When I arrived back home, I checked the young jasmine plant Anna bought me for my birthday last July. For the first time, I saw tiny white buds.
Fun Stuff I Did This Week: This week wasn’t that exciting, although I did watch The Half of It on Netflix, which was SO GOOD and heartwarming and smart and which you all should watch!
But! This week, I’m going to be doing two very cool things! Tomorrow morning, May 3rd, Anna and I will be baking with Michael Chakraverty from The Great British Bake-Off on Instagram Live! Michael was one of my all-time favorite contestants and I was so sad to see him go last season! He’s been a complete sweetheart to me on social media and I’m so thrilled to get this chance. We will be streaming starting 10AM PDT!
Also, I will be joining Gaby Dunn’s Queer Live Reads next week! I’m not going to say what movie script we will be reading, and it’s actually one I’ve never seen before, but the actor whose role I’m taking is something of a comedy legend. Keep an eye on Gaby’s twitter feed!
Fake BBC Show of the Week: Udder Cow! (This show probably exists, they do love bad puns and calling people “cow”)