What first hits your nose is the perspiration scent of canyon sage that rims the country club's parking lot, 1,600 feet above sea level. The big homes directly below, with their aqua-blue swimming pools and juniper windbreaks, probably look a lot like yours if you belong to this club. The horizon beyond is troubled with blights that are easily imagined away as blessings in metaphoric disguise: The noisy Foothill Freeway becomes the River of Life; Forest Lawn Cemetery — death — is graciously blocked by the San Rafael Hills; and that curtain of smog and haze hung over the basin floor hides a place you really, after all, want hidden — Flat Los Angeles. Flat L.A. is a reminder, a warning: It's the city with flattened expectations and steamrollered lives, a city with a 5 o'clock shadow and broken taillights. From above the parking lot drift sounds of splashing children and chattering mothers at the country club pool. They belong to your world and yet there are times, as you head for the nearby putting green, when you feel like an outsider — a fugitive coyote hiding from the moms and splashing children. How did you get up here, 1,600 feet above sea level, with a nine iron in hand? You stare down the long fairway and wonder what it looked like when it was a box canyon, long before the bulldozers came.