I went up to my room, up the dusty stairs of Bunker Hill, past the soot-covered frame buildings along that dark street, sand and oil and grease choking the futile palm trees standing like dying prisoners, chained to a little plot of ground with black pavement hiding their feet. Dust and old buildings and old people sitting at windows, old people tottering out of doors, old people moving painfully along the dark street. The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun. And when they got here they found that other and greater thieves had already taken possession, that even the sun belonged to the others; Smith and Jones and Parker, druggist, banker, baker, dust of Chicago and Cincinnati and Cleveland on their shoes, doomed to die in the sun, a few dollars in the bank, enough to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, enough to keep alive the illusion that this was paradise, that their little papier-mache homes were castles. The uprooted ones, the empty sad folks, the old and the young folks, the folks from back home. These were my countrymen, these were the new Californians. With their bright polo shirts and sunglasses, they were in paradise, they belonged.
But down on Main Street, down on Towne and San: Pedro, and for a mile on lower Fifth Street were the tens of thousands of others; they couldn't afford sunglasses or a four-bit polo shirt and they hid in the alleys by day and slunk off to flop houses by night. A cop won't pick you up for vagrancy in Los Angeles if you wear a fancy polo shirt and a pair of sunglasses. But if there is dust on your shoes and that sweater you wear is thick like the sweaters they wear in the snow countries, he'll grab you. So get yourselves a polo shirt boys, and a pair of sunglasses, and white shoes, if you can. Be collegiate. It'll get you anyway. After a while, after big doses of the Times and the Examiner, you too will whoop it up for the sunny south. You'll eat hamburgers year after year and live in dusty, vermin-infested apartments and hotels, but every morning you'll see the mighty sun, the eternal blue of the sky, and the streets will be full of sleek women you never will possess, and the hot semi-tropical nights will reek of romance, you'll never have, but you'll still be in paradise, boys, in the land of sunshine.As for the folks back home, you can lie to them, because they hate the truth anyway, they won't have it, because soon or late they want to come out to paradise, too. You can't fool the folks back home, boys. They know what Southern California's like. After all they read the papers, they look at the picture magazine glutting the newsstands of every corner in America. They've seen pictures of the movie stars' homes. You can't tell them anything about California.
Lying in my bed I thought about them, watched the blobs of red light from the St Paul Hotel jump in and out of my room, and I was miserable, for tonight I had acted like them. Smith and Parker and Jones, I had never been one of them. Ah Camilla! When I was a kid back home in Colorado it was Smith and Parker and Jones who hurt me with their hideous names, called me Wop and Dago and Greaser, and their children hurt me, just as I hurt you tonight. They hurt me so much I could never become one of them, drove me to books, drove me within myself, drove me to run away from that Colorado town, and sometimes, Camilla, when I see their faces I feel the hurt all over again, the old ache there, and sometimes their heartlessness, the same faces, the same set, hard mouths, faces from my home town, fulfilling the emptiness of their lives under a blazing sun. I see them in the lobbies of hotels, I see them sunning in the parks, and limping out of ugly little churches, their faces bleak from proximity with their strange gods, out of Aimee's Temple, out of the Church of the Great I Am.
I have seen them stagger out of their movie palaces and blink their empty eyes in the face of reality once more, and stagger home, to read the Times, to find out what's going on in the world. I have vomited at their newspapers, read their literature, observed their customs, eaten their food, desired their women, gaped at their art. But I am poor, and my name ends with a soft vowel, and they hate me and my father, and my father's father, and they would have my blood and put me down, but they are old now, dying in the sun and in the hot dust of the road, and I am young and full of hope and love for my country and my times, and when I say Greaser to you it is not my heart that speaks, but the quivering of an old wound, and I am ashamed of the terrible thing I have done.
[from ask the dust by john fante , 1939]