When you’ve worked your entire life to escape the Southern Baptist stranglehold on northeast Florida, winding up smack-dab in the middle of a burgeoning religious community can be a real drag.
I live in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. If it sounds unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. Even some of my peers who have lived here for years aren’t quite sure where or what it is. The quick history lesson is that in the 1920s, it was the first residential area west of downtown, home to wealthy businessmen and a large Jewish population. However, as streetcar service was suspended and freeways were built over the following decades, these factions left and were replaced by immigrant communities. By the 70s, violence and crime were on the rise, and it wasn’t until the early stages of gentrification in 2000 that they subsided. If that doesn’t provide enough context, it’s also featured prominently in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode “72 Hours,” in which Will dares Carlton to survive in “the hood” for three days.
I like living in Westlake. MacArthur Park is beautiful, the intoxicating smells of local panaderias fill the air, and the rent can’t be beat. But there is one aspect of life here that really grinds my gears: the churches. That’s right, a disaffected millennial has a problem with religion. Stop the presses. But when you’ve worked your entire life to escape the Southern Baptist stranglehold on northeast Florida, winding up smack-dab in the middle of a burgeoning religious community can be a real drag.
Faith No Más
As you may have gathered, Westlake is home to a huge Latino population, the majority of whom come from Mexico. I don’t begrudge them this. After all, the border is only two hours away, and they were probably here before I was. But boy, do these people love going to church! There must be something in that MacArthur Park water. (Probably lead. Who knows how many incriminating firearms have been dumped there over the years? It’s either that, or generations of tradition forced upon Latinos by the Catholic Church. Who can say?) They’ll meet on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, seemingly at all hours of the day and night. I know they want to praise the Lord, but don’t you think He/She could use a rest?
If I Die Before I Wake
Speaking of rest, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home after a night of drinking (something I can believe in), to see entire families leaving church close to or after midnight. Now, I don’t want to tell anyone how to raise their children, but allow me to tell you how to raise your children: don’t keep them up all night for church! I can’t think of anything more ungodly. Those kids don’t need the good book, they need a good eight hours of sleep.
Location, Location, Location
I am not exaggerating when I say there is a church at every turn. While this is convenient for believers, it doesn’t make much practical sense. Right across from my building there’s a church next to a space used for Zumba and karate classes. I can only surmise that this is some effort to cultivate a militia of God-fearing martial artists. We should be fearing them. On the block directly east of my apartment, there is a church that literally backs up to another church. I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure if churches are touching that makes them gay. And we all know how God feels about that.
The proliferation of churches matched with the numerous services makes life hellish in another regard. Parking, already a bear to deal with in Westlake, becomes basically impossible. Landing a spot within three blocks is, dare I say it, a miracle. I’m not a man who gives credence to all that spiritual mumbo jumbo, but during these times of trial and tribulation, I’d surely sell my soul to the devil for a permanent parking space.
One Man’s Trash
If you’ve ever ventured into Westlake, say for Langer’s famous pastrami sandwiches (which seem to be the only thing people connect with this historic LA locale), you know that the streets here are paved with litter. Now, I’m not saying that the trash and the churchgoers are connected, but I have watched my neighbors blatantly let their empty bags of chips fall to the ground like the wayward feathers of a dove. I’ve seen crumpled bags of fast food left on stoops, presumably as territorial symbols of dominance. Come to think of it, if I ate fast food on the daily, I’d probably constantly be seeking forgiveness and salvation, too. Can you imagine all that shame? If cleanliness is next to godliness, you’d never know it here.
You may find all these complaints unwarranted, aggressively antagonistic, or, let’s face it, just plain racist. God, forgive me for what I’ve done. If only there were some place near me where I could atone for my sins.