Essay: LA Women After Dark, for New Size? magazine

"Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” - Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Los Angeles is a city defined by its sunshine; but what of the Los Angeles that exists in the aftermath of its famous sunsets? This is, after all, a city known for its noir literature, stories of strange crimes amid endless summers, seedy boarding houses, jazz and marginal thieves; double-dealing moguls and disenchanted starlets, detectives sifting through remnants of broken dreams, Bukowski's Henry Chinaski waking up to his millionth hangover in this fiercely ecstatic dystopia. 

In her lyrical ode to Los Angeles, “Palm Latitudes: A Novel”, author Kate Braverman personified the LA night as a woman, La Puta de la Luna — mistress of the moon.

“La Puta de la Luna prefers to experience the night as it actually is, raw, hungry and lawless. She will feel the press of deep gulfs above, in the hollows and paths where planets come to feed in a sky littered and beyond reconstruction. Then, the center of the city will be barren as a meteor, its excessive profusion of light will mean nothing, its spires and towers less significant than the craters pitting a dead orb in space. La Puta de la Luna never forgets that this city, like all others, is a hallucination.”

I love walking in LA after midnight. Braverman is right, there is something hallucinatory about it.  In the spring and summer, the night air is scent-laden, delirious with jasmine, orange blossom, eucalyptus, gardenia, dust, and the stinking waft of skunk. Streets are lined with tall, strange Bird of Paradise flowers. Palm tree fronds rattle in the soft wind that scatters violet Jacaranda blossoms on the cracked ground. Today, LA’s streets are lined with the tent homes of the homeless and dispossessed, many of them inhabited by women. It’s said a very pretty blue-haired girl deals crystal meth from her flimsy nylon tabernacle on Vermont Ave, just a few blocks from the mansions of Christina Ricci, Natalie Portman, Moby.

It is the presence of coyotes that distinguishes the LA night from all others. More than 750,000 of them live here. Should you find yourself walking along the the foot of the hills that ridge the northern and eastern parts of the city, you’ll likely run into one of these urban carnivores, crisscrossing the streets alone, thirsty thanks to a ten-year drought, and hungry for garbage and small pets. In the hills of Mount Washington, they travel in bold, vociferous packs that wail and chatter with the moonrise, reminding us that this is and will always be a desert. In the lower stretches of this grand city, along its artificially-lit strip malls and lonely alleyways, you’ll also hear howls, not of coyotes but of people. To the west, where the city spills into the Pacific, where the extremes of wealth and poverty are most apparent, the waters are warmest for swimming at night.

I remember walking home late at night along a bare stretch of Hollywood Boulevard. Car headlights blinded me as the city traffic moved along, oblivious. The streets were empty, and I was reminded that “nobody walks in LA”.  A man, drug-addled and raggedy, yelled something as I marched by. I was alert, ready for danger, hairs prickling on the back of my neck. I was a coyote, ready to bolt.


“Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town, I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.”

John Fante in “Ask The Dust” 1939

In California, you can legally start purchasing alcohol at 6 a.m. A handful of dive bars across the city honor this right. Ten years ago, I made it a mission of mine to visit all of those bars, by myself. I would set my alarm for 5 am, and leave the house when the sky was still dark, edged with violet. The freeways at that hour are just beginning to rumble and moan. There is nothing on earth quite like an LA dawn—you can thank the smog and haze for this otherworldly tapestry, this tie-dye factory in the sky.  

I liked the Spotlight, a now-shuttered gay dive in Hollywood that served the 6 am clientele. There, I first experienced the sweet camaraderie that exists among those who linger on the edge of the night. They recognize each other, travel in packs. One such creature was a man,  handsome in a young–Don Johnson sort of way, but with a missing front tooth that had been knocked out by some girl’s boyfriend. He bought a peppermint schnapps and vodka. Then he turned to me and said, “I’ve killed people, you know.” Then he ran across the street to fetch us onion bagels. 

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Like la Puta de la Luna, I felt alert as an coyote freshly risen, drawn to of the treachery of the night, knowing she will survive.