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Emeric Toth and the City

Emeric Toth Is My Alter Egp

First Impressions of a Megalopolis

This posting is reprinted from Yahoo! 360 from February 2009, when I wrote some quasi-fictional pieces starring my alter ego, one Emeric Toth.

What was there to love about this city? Ten million plus people living their lives on a series of shelves between the mountains and the sea. Most of the time, the sun beat down relentlessly on the people, the buildings, and the gigantic road network that radiated like octopus appendages out from the center. When he first arrived there over forty years ago, Emeric Toth heard Los Angeles described as seventy-five towns in search of a city. He remembered the confusion on the ride to his first apartment from Union Station. He started downtown, went some five miles and—bam!—there was another downtown by Hollywood. A few miles further and—bam!—another downtown by a new place called Century City.

He had heard about the strangeness of the place and its inhabitants, who lived in metastasizing suburbs that stretched out for miles in every direction but one: The sea was an effective barrier.

The new state governor was an actor named Ronald Reagan, whom Toth had seen co-starring with a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo (1939). The whole hippie thing was just beginning, which he traced with some amusement in the weekly newspaper called the Los Angeles Free Press, or Freep for short. The Vietnam war was just beginning to arouse massive resentment: In just two short years, Johnson would refuse to run for a second term because he felt tainted by the war. That’s when presidents cared what people thought.

So many things have changed, most notably Emeric Toth himself. The city was still recognizably the same, grimier in some instances, and new and shiny in others. He sat at a local café slowly savoring a small pot of Darjeeling tea as he watched the young people chattering away at adjacent tables. In another forty years, those kids would still be there, drinking whatever the beverage of choice would be, but he himself would not be. But some part of himself would be still be attenuated and distributed across the hundreds of square miles of buildings and freeways and occasional green spaces and towering peaks (if they’ll be able to see them then) and above all that dark green and black ocean whose waves break endlessly on the shore of Santa Monica Bay.