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If you just look, L.A. is full of artists

This big, florid, cartoony face of mine is handsomer than handsome. Master barber Jose Rojas looks it over trying to determine an entry point to its magnificent terrain. Initially, there appears to be some termite damage near the right cheek, and he thinks maybe a meteor once landed near one of the eyebrows that the attending surgeon, using the latest car fender repair techniques, filled with Bondo.

Other than that, the face is flawless.

"Good genes," I say, reading his mind.

The skin? An old trampoline. The nose? Pile of putty.

Naturally, I want the very best for a mug like this.

Which brings me to yet another shopping mall, this one the Americana in Glendale, saturated with fountains, twinkle lights and overpriced sushi.

The Americana seems never without a mob, especially on a Friday night like this. Patrons climb aboard the trolley and futz with the gadgets at America's most popular opium den, the Apple Store.

Stuff like this used to bother me, a city full of false fronts, a city with no laugh lines.

Faux Angeles.

Then I began to embrace the spirit of renewal that is in the very bones of the place, a never-say-die attitude that led to classics like "Cinderella" and "Pretty Woman" and our ageless civic snare drum, Joan Rivers.

This is not a cookie-cutter city modeled on the same hard-shoe sermons of most metropoli. There is something different in the water here — Smirnoff's, maybe, a touch of tonic, as well as a chronic lack of leadership that lets the L.A. area grow sort of willy-nilly.

Once you come to terms with that, you're free to try almost anything.

So, I'm at the Art of Shaving at the Americana, where, one pixel at a time, master barber Rojas is attempting to shave my Technicolor face.

"What we've done here is bring back the art behind barbering," Rojas explains as he smothers me with a hot towel.


What Rojas means by "here" is this old-timey, man-cave barbershop. Sure, I have a Sweeney Todd moment, when I am certain Rojas is about to dispatch me with a twist of the straight razor and a trapdoor that flips me into the basement. But that's a fair price for the possibility of a perfect shave, a shave that erases the very veneer that stands between us and real intimacy. Men grow whiskers to distance ourselves from others. A good barber carves us back to life. Guess that's why they used to be the town surgeons.

And good barbers seem to be all the rage these days. The number of the chain's shops has tripled in the last three years, from 30 to almost 100, says manager Beth Mitchell.

Book a day or two in advance, and bring 100 bucks, so that you can get a haircut and the best shave of your life, a price point you shouldn't fear, because that's about what your girlfriend spends on toe paint.

"The secret is light pressure," Rojas says as he methodically works the straight edge, a whisker here, a whisker there. "To learn, you can lather up a balloon. If you're using the right amount of pressure, it won't pop."

Another hot towel. Nice. Ahhhhhhhh.

Go ahead, run your hand across my jawline and feel an invigorating freshness of the flesh, the smooth pink of deli cold cuts.

OK, you can stop now.

On the way home, I drop in at the more authentic Jax Bar & Grill, a Glendale saloon that looks old because it actually is old. It's old because it's earned it.

Here, on the next stool over, I run across Alex Topete, a retired Disney animator with a résumé that includes "The Little Mermaid," "The Lion King" and Snoopy in those Met Life commercials.

Like Rojas, Topete made a living using his fingertips to craft faces.

Like me, he is a lifer in the suburbs of Southern California, after arriving from somewhere far away.

Topete and Rojas are also reminders of something else I admire about Los Angeles — all joking aside — the great sense of craftsmanship ... of things well done.

"Talented people from all over the world come here to work, to make their dreams come true," Topete says of the place's endless allure.

I know. One pixel at a time.

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