What Day is it? I moved to Los Angeles from Chicago a year and three months ago. For the past twenty-seven months, I’ve been more confused about the passage of time than ever before. I’ve been waking up, day after day, to the same sunny, mysterious non-winter. I never know what month it is, or how many years I’ve been here. Time has become a blur. Sometimes there is food in the refrigerator, sometimes there isn’t. I don’t know where it all went. Sometimes there is one eggplant on the counter and I don’t know what its deal is; it could be a week old, or it could be three months old. I can’t remember when I bought it. Sometimes I notice that my toenails are really long and I say out loud to an empty bathroom, wait, has this much time passed already? Has it been a “long toenail” amount of time? What day is it? HELP!
Do I have early onset amnesia? Or is it just always the same day here? Thankfully, there is a house around the corner that I make sure to pass every morning because they change their lawn decorations for each “season.” “Ah, the pumpkins are out! Must be fall,” I think as I walk by, trying to convince myself that I am not, in fact, completely insane. “Oh yes, the Easter bunnies are here. Must be sometime around March or April,” I say to myself, relieved to know what approximate month I am in. Sometimes I send greeting cards to my friends and family just to feel more confident in my own brain that I am sort of “with it” in terms of what time of year it is for everyone else. “Hey guys, did you get my Thanksgiving card?” I can ask them later, as if to say, “HEY AREN’T YOU PROUD OF ME FOR KNOWING IT WAS APPROXIMATELY THANKSGIVING TIME?”
Ever since I got my dog, a very charming terrier named Trey (who, incidentally, was saved by a rescue group from a high-kill shelter in the desert of Lancaster), time has become even more distorted. Dogs have no idea about time. They nap after they wake up, they wake up after they sleep; they set their own schedules. They have no office to get to, no important meeting to drink a red bull for, no social networking events coming up, no calendars and no clocks. They just know when they want to eat, or go outside, or bother me.
Since getting Trey, I haven’t had to set an alarm clock because the one time he pays attention to is 7 a.m., which is when he always wakes up and wants to go out immediately. I oblige because, incidentally, he was saved from a high-kill shelter in the desert of Lancaster, and he deserves to get whatever he wants.
After waking up to the sounds of a dog stretching and yawning dramatically so that someone will notice, I kick off the covers, throw on yesterdays outfit, which is on the floor where the “me of yesterday” took itself off, and walk to the kitchen, where I can brew a pot of coffee without even opening my eyes. What can I say, I’m a glamorous, mysterious woman. Then I grab Trey’s leash and take him outside.
For the first few months after I moved here, morning walks were a great time for me to just stare at plants. Plants I had never seen before, plants that didn’t look dingy under the cover of ominous clouds like the plants always did in Chicago. Plants that sparkled in pure sunlight at 7 a.m. Plants that actually look “perky,” as if they are alive or something.
I used to stop at someone’s perfectly landscaped garden and just gawk at their exotic, California flowers like I was gawking at a celebrity. I would sit on a bench and just study a palm tree with my eyes, trying to memorize what it looked like in case this was all a dream and tomorrow, I would be back in Chicago, where my mornings were very different.
Mornings in Chicago involved a lot of being freezing. I never kicked off the covers off in Chicago. Instead, I used to get out of bed and take the covers with me. Covers transformed into clothes as I made my way to the kitchen to brew coffee and stare out the window at the clouds—so many clouds. Always clouds in the morning, making the streets look dirty and dingy and the bare trees look sad.
Heading out the door in Chicago required layering, planning, and a general lugging of things. A normal outfit would involve a tank top under a t-shirt, with a sweater over that, a scarf, tights under my pants, socks, boots, a huge coat that I had once or twice successfully used as a sleeping bag, and then a big bag of stuff on my shoulder, because who knows where I would end up on any given day.
Going somewhere in Chicago involved a lot of efficiency; how to I get from A to B with the least amount of freezing? And then a mad dash to the bus, or to my bike, or to a friend’s car. There was never time for sitting and gawking at plants, and I probably wouldn’t want to. The plants only ever looked good in the fall, when they were turning colors, as if they were celebrating because it was finally time to die.
I grew up with seasons, and they shaped my sense of time. I could feel spring in the air, or a hint of fall coming. I could complain endlessly about a long winter, and now I find out what season it is from a pumpkin on my neighbor’s lawn. It rained here once and I woke up in the middle of the night to go and listen to it. Isn’t it strange? The things that are part of how you understand the world don’t even exist in other places, or they exist in very different ways.
I know it sounds like I need to get a calendar, but I have one. It still doesn’t help. Looking at the word “November” on a page does not mean that it actually feels like November. Staring at a palm tree glistening in the sun does not bring me any closer to understanding why the sun is here and not in Chicago.
What I am wondering now is, how do people who grow up here do it? Do they grow up with a different understanding of the way time passes? Do they use their hair, or their toenails to understand time? Or do they just use the pilot season as their one season to organize everything else around it? How could this huge difference not shape the way your brain functions, the way you set goals, the way you organize your time, which is, as Ben Franklin said, the stuff of life?
Seasonal Faux-Pas I Made My First Year In L.A.
1. Getting stared at for throwing my bikini-clad body into the ocean during a Saturday in the “winter” while hanging out at the dog beach with people who are dressed in sweaters and beanies.
2. Trying to find a beach blanket at Target when it was “no longer beach season.”
3. Asking a salesman at J.Crew, ”Do people wear tights here?” “Where?” he responded. “Here in L.A. Do people wear tights? Does it get cold enough for tights?” “People wear everything,” he said. Well, I thought to myself, they don’t, actually. No one is walking around in a sleeping bag coat. Instead, people seem pretty fond of the “Hey, I was chilly so I put on this jacket that looks like my dad’s old raincoat, but actually I bought this for a lot of money at a cool, hip store” look.
Anyway, yes, it turns out that people in L.A.—myself included— wear tights. So at least one thing feels normal.