Taja knew something was up as she watched me load up the strange gray vehicle in front of the house. her face was all concern. i walked her back inside, subtly scanned the place for any remaining things i needed, and then fed her a goodbye treat. tried to make it feel like an ordinary goodbye, but she knew.
i filled up the tank at Geary and Arguello, and left the city around 10.
when i pick music for long car rides, my system is to pick an album whose name comes alphabetically after the destination or person i’m driving toward. “Los Angeles” led me to Lost Highway, the soundtrack produced by Trent Reznor in 1997 for a film i’ve yet to see. it was perfect. 70+ minutes of David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Lou Reed, Marilyn Manson, and Rammstein to kick-start the trip down south.
my first stop along I-5 was a regular old rest area—bless the government’s good works—and my second was a Carl’s Jr. i ordered some vile new variation on the six dollar burger, which i greedily devoured while watching my jalopy out in the parking lot. wouldn’t want anyone trying to take it for a joy ride.
a few hours later, i cruised over the grapevine and descended into LA.
it was wednesday evening rush hour, but with everyone fleeing for the Valley i had little trouble with traffic. Waze led me from I-5 to the 405 and then through a drive-by tour of UCLA. befitting an advanced, urban campus (despite its medical center being named after a conservative, sunuvabitch politician), the streets were well-paved, colorfully painted, and impossible to park on. i hooked into a dead end, where i killed time video chatting with my love, listening to college kids talking about the election on NPR, and watching dozens of university denizens stroll by.
eventually Micah was free so i swung around to his building, where he gave me a tour of his lab before handing me spare keys to his apartment. i dropped him off at his tutoring job and then kept on cruising to his place in the Sawtelle district—just south of UCLA. he guided me to the entrance over the phone, i dropped off my sleeping stuff, and i was on my way again.
it would be my last drive of the day, which felt good, plus it was just a short sunset cruise to Santa Monica. the next day i’d have a long day of work, but this was all just the beginning of a weeklong excursion in the other great California metropolis, so my spirit felt light and high. that feeling may partially explain why, absentmindedly, i rolled up to the hotel where the conference was being held, not wondering for a moment whether that was the hotel where my client had decided to put me up. ferried by crooked metal and peeling paint, this long-haired hippie must’ve looked pretty out of place to the hotel employees at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.
“sir, this is valet only,” said the first man, brown-skinned and buttoned up in a blinding white, old-fashioned suit.
“that’s fine,” i replied, cool as hell, though under my skin my neurons quickly flickered back into consciousness, stoking my brain to wonder, “is this where i’m supposed to be?”
i told the valet attendant i’d be a moment and, as i took my sweet time getting my stuff in order, i texted Steve, “did you guys do the valet?”
“are you at venue hotel?” he said. “that’s not where we’re staying.”
fuck. without a word to the valet—like it was the most natural thing in the world—i turned on the ignition and whipped out of the loading zone back into the street. in less than a mile, i’d arrived at my true destination, the Santa Monica Motel. similar name, big difference: in just a few minutes, i’d fallen from a 4.5-star hotel ranked 15/36 on TripAdvisor to a 2-star motel ranked 31/36. well, at least it wasn’t dead last.
instead of valet attendants in a fountain-adorned court, i rolled up alongside a couple guys smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. they were waiting for their pizza delivery, and, by the looks they gave me, they seemed pretty hungry. i kept to myself, walked up to the front desk to retrieve my room key, and finally reached my room, where Steve was already established. we gave each other the look that means “this is pretty fucking shitty” but conversed in the light, easy way that humans do when compelled toward camaraderie.
we wanted to make the most of it; in other words, we both wanted to leave the slummy room at the first opportunity. i showered quickly, and then we walked a block to a Thai restaurant. we dined on delicious grub while dissecting the plebeian position we’d been pushed into. again, the conversation was friendly and generally uplifting, as we reinforced the other’s intuition that we both deserved better, and we both optimistically looked forward to the time we would prove it.
the money that had booked us a room was fake, but the motel was real. and it became no more apparent than the moment just before bed as i rearranged my bedding, only to find a finger-sized cockroach waddling under my pillow. i just looked at it and sighed, while Steve radiated disgust. the disgust became mine and morphed into resentment as i thought of the boss chilling poolside in her bikini with her high-born coterie.
i killed the creature and went to sleep on its grave.
~ 1 ~
in spite of the roach guts under my pillow and the heavily breathing man-machine in the bed next to me, i slept fairly well.
Steve showered, i freshened up, and then we drove over to the beachside hotel. i couldn’t tell if any of the valet attendants had seen me the day prior, but i also didn’t care.
once you’ve seen one tech conference, you’ve seen them all. dudes, dudes, dudes in suits, jeans, blazers. middle-aged dudes, young dudes. women working the registration desk, young dudes working the registration desk. dolled up women in short skirts and heels setting up demos. dolled up women in short skirts and heels not setting up demos, but actually just entrepreneurs like the middle-aged dudes, the young dudes. women, women, not nearly enough women.
coffee. coffee, coffee, coffee. the fuel of tech conference life, steaming hot in tall metal samovars. breakfast: the four standard fruit (watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, and honeydew) and trays and trays of assorted pastries.
one of these middle-aged men stopped me in my coffee reverie and said, “oh, do i need to get my name tag now?” and i had no idea what he’s talking about. after working through his own bewilderment, he realized that he’d mistaken me for another white male 20-something going on 30-something with a bit of facial hair and a bun fastened to the skull. there were two of us at this particular conference; sounds about right.
the day consisted of bloodletting, where blood equals attention. i spun from my coffee to the speakers on stage to the notes on my computer to the tweets on my phone and back to my coffee. after bleeding my entire body’s contents across these various vessels, the coffee would restore me, and i’d have more attention to give.
across the entire day, nobody was quite as entertaining as Mark Cuban. i guess that’s why they put him on tv. while everyone on stage could hold their own, Cuban’s personality and presence simply demanded eyes and ears. especially in stark contrast to his interviewer’s quiet, meek questioning, the man emanated loud opinion and egoistic bravado. you could hate it or you could love it. that fact became even truer when some unknown rogue in the audience found a mic and started drilling Cuban on his stance regarding economics and the election, which escalated into a fiery back-and-forth culminating in the man spouting tired arguments about Clinton’s corruption, leaving Cuban to resign, “oh, you’re just a fucking idiot. go back to your job at breitbart.”
i laughed and laughed.
in the demo area, i ran into a woman i’d previously met who is running a marijuana business. her business doesn’t “touch the plant,” as they say in the industry, but it’s still a business dependent on the eventual proliferation of marijuana as a legitimate, viable product. i like her. she has a good head on her shoulders and she doesn’t treat me like i should be moving boxes behind the stage. in the moment, though i’m loath to admit given the systemic mistreatment of women in business (let alone the tech industry), i couldn’t help but recognize how pretty she was.
i needed a walk.
my face was flaking to pieces because i hadn’t moisturized at all that morning. i had felt myself disintegrating in front of the marijuantrepreneur and, narcissist that i am, i couldn’t stomach the thought of joining the afterparty in that state. so after lunch i left the building and walked back to the motel room, where i quickly applied a few drops of oil to my beard and scalp before turning back to the conference.
the rest of was uneventful. at the end, i finally hugged Tram and we agreed to drive to the afterparty together. it was good chilling w her. she’s from Los Angeles and she’s real. that’s something i couldn’t say years ago, stuck in this hardcore Bay Area bias that people from LA could never be human or authentic. but she was a fellow pleb like me and Steve, so i got to continue building upon the same camaraderie i’d discovered the night before. all the plebs, drafting a list of grievances committed by our wage slave drivers.
we lounged in a couple comfy chairs at some VC firm’s rooftop afterparty, sipping Stella and wine, basking in the Santa Monica sunset. i wanted to stumble into genial conversation with the bosswoman, and then casually find an opportunity to show her the blurry photo of my unexpected, six-legged bedfellow. but the opportunity never came.
so i said goodbye to Tram and our Floridan acquaintance, said goodbye to the swank VC firm, penned buzzed poetry inspired by the ferris wheel and grime and wealth, picked up the pantyflasher, swung by the motel to grab all my shit, and said goodbye to Santa Monica.
~~ 2 ~~
waking up was difficult.
after getting to Micah’s the night before, we’d gone to eat some strange, soupy curry dish with a giant cut of meat and too little rice. whatever it was, we washed it down with big beers. Micah’s studio was thick w incense smoke, which wasn’t helping my congestion, so i tossed and turned all night, blaming the sleeping pad and bag that had nobly served me over a hundred nights and cursing myself for not bringing a functional inhaler. but i survived.
and i did wake up—with just a few hours’ sleep—even though it was Micah that could have slept right through his flight’s departure. i stirred him and then we cruised together in the post-sunrise shine to LAX. Micah was on his way.
i was free and relatively hungover on a friday morning, but i still had some work to do. so i turned back to Sawtelle to hit up the Literati, a cafe Micah had recommended. breakfast burritos, no matter how mundane, make everything alright. i typed away on the computing machine, filed away some work, and then truly felt free.
after showering and doing some Trader Joe’s shopping, i drove east to aerienne’s place, situated contentiously between Rampart Village, Macarthur Park, Westlake, and Echo Park.
the Gal Palace, as her home and DIY venue is called, sits large and proud on a corner of Rampart Blvd. aerienne opened up the grand gate and guided me up the front yard steps past their city chickens, who were winding down their squawking in the twilight. inside, we chilled with the two house cats and two of aerienne’s housemates. Tonopah’s bandleader Effie was one, though she quickly ducked away. the other lingered longer, chatting with us about halloween, the entertainment industry, and life in general while we chomped down aerienne’s deliciously spicy boxed curry.
once Evan rolled over, we caught a ride to the main attraction of the night: RISE of the Jack O’Lanterns. aerienne explained how she’d been taken in by the silly event through a facefvck ad, which had advertised five thousand hard-carved jack o’ lanterns. descending the escalator into the bowels of the Los Angeles Convention Center, all three of us had this image of single pumpkin after single pumpkin donning mind-bogglingly sophisticated carvings on their faces. but single pumpkins. one pumpkin, one carving.
instead, we saw shit like this:
that was definitely the most epic example, but we saw sculpture after sculpture composed of dozens of pumpkins carved and arranged perfectly to illuminate ten-foot-tall skulls (channeling Día de Muertos), cars, and characters from Frozen and Star Wars. it was pretty damn remarkable.
drifting around the gargantuan underground parking lot among gobs of lucky kids, sleepy adults, and otherworldly jack o’ lanterns put all three of us in a dazed, walking mood. at first, we couldn’t even leave the convention center, instead opting to wander its epically voluminous halls.
it’s like a cathedral for the godless capitalists.
eventually we found our way back outside, and simply kept walking. how often does one find oneself walking around downtown with no discernible destination? we walked and walked the long, wide streets. walked past the staples center, wondered whether some sportsball team was playing. we walked and walked and walked… and then Evan and aerienne realized we were near the Pantry.
officially the “Original Pantry Cafe,” the classic American diner claims to have never closed since its founding in 1924 (except for one day in 1997 because of some minor health violations). even in 1950, when it moved locations, the original location served lunch and the new one served dinner on the same day.
we were all on the same level, feeling the wayfaring vibe. none of us were really hungry, but coffee was the ticket, so we drank cup after cup while nibbling on warm apple pie and shooting the shit. my stomach didn’t need it, but my mind kept begging for the concoctions grilling right before our eyes: giant omelettes, dripping french toast, sizzling bacon. somehow i resisted.
caffeinated as fuck, we walked on. walked and walked and walked. aerienne picked up cigarettes, and we walked on. walked and walked and walked. at an intersection, we watched as a large SUV—windows down and full of party girls—slowed to a stop. the girls were loudly but somehow gently singing along to a song on the radio, “sex with me… sex with me… sex with me…”
it was partly sensual, but partly morbid. the pretty young women seemed to be cast as sex zombies, transported by self-driving electric vehicles in the 21st century American city. soon after, we walked past a large-scale film shoot taking up several blocks, but the long-gone singing girls seemed to loom larger still.
suddenly, another idea hit both of my LA hosts simultaneously: the Clifton. originally known as Clifton’s Brookdale (named after the Brookdale Lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains), the place was as classic to LA’s downtown scene as the Pantry. apparently the Cafeteria (as it was or still may be called) used to serve people on a “Dine Free Unless Delighted” basis. or, in the case of Ray Bradbury and Charles Bukowski, dine free because you’re a poor poet.
already past midnight when we arrived, however, the place wasn’t in cafeteria mode. it was basically a nightclub. an eccentric nightclub with taxidermy wildlife, redwood trees, and all the fine furniture you’d find in the best mountain lodges. i ordered us $50 worth of gin martinis (that is, three gin martinis) and toasted to love and life in the city. aerienne tried to show me something cool in one of the many nooks (a chapel? a waterfall?) but she quickly doubled back with a funny expression on her face.
“there’s a girl getting eaten out in there,” she said.
we wandered to a cozy sitting area, where we could peaceably sip our martinis while watching the clearly-drunker crowd get down to all the hits from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. at one point, a line of lovely women dressed in burlesque marched up the steps and twirled in a wide circle around the lodge. one of them was floating on roller skates—a beautiful disco flapper. finally, the ringleader took center stage in front of the lodge’s fireplace and shared her modest striptease set to electroswing. for the third time in one night, i was deeply aware of what century it was.
when she finished, the crowd seemed fairly happy to have the floor back, and the dj graced us with the classics: “Twist and Shout,” “The Twist,” and everything else too hot and sexy for the 50s and 60s. with our martinis half-drunk, we stood up and started shaking it. the flapper and her electroswing companion had inspired us.
~~~ 3 ~~~
in the morning, Meryl was ready for me. she wasn’t even at her own apartment, and yet she texted and then called, finally waking me from my deep stupor. yes, yes, i’ll be right over, i said.
i got up, ate a small bite of cereal, dressed in my clothes from the night before, and was off. a half hour later i wished i’d showered. in SF, i routinely get away with only showering and changing clothes every other day, but LA may be too hot for that routine. i spent at least fifteen minutes circling Meryl’s apartment in search of a parking spot, and the heat and stress combined to make me sweat bullets. i finally found one, grabbed the two champagne bottles i’d brought, and walked up to Meryl’s building.
smack dab in the heart of Koreatown, the building features a classically-inspired entrance, complete with wide mouth staircase and a pair of decaying statues flanking its sides. i ascended the staircase and phoned my friend. a few minutes later, the petite blonde tart burst out the door and leapt into my arms. blonde? she’d dyed her hair to better blend in w her LA brethren, i suppose, or maybe to make her valleyspeak appear more natural.
we went up to drop off the bubbles and say hi to Chell (Meryl’s sweet Pomeranian), right back down to Cassell’s for brunch, and then right back up to take little Chell on a walk.
before we got to the corner, we ran into Clara “the effortlessly beautiful,” as one or two of her friends described her. they weren’t wrong. though nearly a decade younger than Meryl and me, she emanated confidence. from her short dark hair and glowing eyes to the leather choker around her neck to the quick-stepping feet, moving a couple paces ahead of us, she seemed to be on another plane. where was she going so quickly?
back upstairs in Meryl’s apartment, we sipped red wine while Clara swilled it. one of her best friends was coming to the party that night, and she’d somehow agreed to join him in his quest for sobriety. well, on the surface she’d agreed. under the surface, she was overflowing with fermented grapes.
we were all a bit buzzed by the time Travis the sexy handyman came over. his hair was blonde and disheveled, his glasses big and hip, his overalls white and wonderful, and wrapped in his arms were the heart of the party: cooking supplies for frying up dozens of chicken limbs. the three of us briefly made a run to the nearby Asian supermarket for various last-minute supplies and then we were back at the chicken shack.
i’m always pleasantly surprised when people are open to giving up control of the music for extended periods of time. Meryl too surprised me by being one of these people, and i tried to do the privilege honor by playing all my favorite funky, feminist, timeless, complex, atmospheric classics.
from the afternoon to midnight, the party was slow, gradual, chill. started with just me, Meryl, and Chell, added Clara, added Travis, added more and more friends, added fried chicken and cocktails, exited the highway to take a detour through the landfill conversation of election 2016, cursed the stupid, worthless, good-for-nothing, last-remaining Trump supporters while polishing our heads for so wisely settling on Clinton as our future imperialist figurehead, and then the party started winding down as everyone moved on to the next cool thing. that left me, Meryl, Molly, and her man, who at last left Chell to guard the apartment while we ventured out into the world seeking “maximum laughter, minimal consequence.”
the Korean-American scene kings and queens were out in full force on Wilshire, smoking in line for a club that couldn’t possibly be worth it. we waltzed past the lot of them and whipped around the corner into what looked like a truck loading zone. a handful of people were showing the bouncer their IDs, and we did the same. then a short young woman said, “okay, let’s go,” and we followed her down a brightly lit corridor past industrial kitchens and pantries until finally arriving at a couple beat-up vending machines. “have fun,” she said, opening the vending machine door to reveal a massive 80s dance party in full effect. Depeche Mode, the Smiths, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Queen, David Bowie—any speakeasy worth its salt should always have these gods on rotation.
we ordered a couple whiskey gingers and, to my disappointment, danced for just a few moments before ducking out into the club’s back alley. we’d left our chill apartment and walked into a club bursting with good vibes, but instead opted to just hang out drinking in the back instead of dancing. oh well, i wasn’t about to throw a tantrum—not quite yet—so i stood against the wall and joined in conversation with Meryl and her friends. thankfully, they were great: Molly was a babe with violet-tinged twilight blue eyebrows and hair, and her man was tall and dapper. i still never found out whether he just dressed up all the time or if he had just come from a wedding.
eventually we returned to the dance floor to dance the last few songs of the night before getting bumped back to the street. Overpass popup? Overpass popup.
we left Break Room 86 and hopped into a Lyft to take us to some warehouse in the middle of nowhere. (i was told that, during the week, the Overpass is a club literally located under a highway overpass, but on the weekends they throw after-hours parties in secret locations to keep serving drinks and beats into the wee hours.) when we arrived, my bladder was set to explode. but there was a line. turns out we weren’t the only people in LA who had just left a bar that closed at 2 AM with the intention of still partying. the worst part about lines that lead into clubs is knowing that the person on the other side of the line can charge you whatever they want, and your protests will mean nothing. you’ve just waited in line, so better pay up to make it worth your while.
“they’re charging $40 to get in,” said some guys walking back to the street. they seemed to me to be only half-joking.
they were. the girl at the desk said it was $20 each and none of us had cash. so while standing in line for the kind of shitty ATM that emails your credit card number and pin to a Russian server, the four of us debated our life decisions. Molly and her man were against—she somewhat, he very much so. he’d gotten the look in his face that i know so well, that feeling of “oh my god fuck everyone i could be masturbating in a gutter right now and still be having more fun.” i empathized. but Meryl, staunch as always, proved equally sensible: we’d gotten a ride over here, we’d waited in the line, let’s just go in. i was leaning toward Molly’s wisdom, especially because i could hear the mediocre beats: it’s not worth $20.
standing in line for the ATM bought us time while the bouncers eyed us angrily. once Meryl had withdrawn cash, we returned to the desk to have Molly flash her the “i work in the industry and my eyebrows are fucking incredible” card. we didn’t need to get in for free, we were just looking for a discount. no dice.
the annoyed bouncers, who probably don’t get paid enough to react so intensely, growled at us to pay up or piss off. that made the decision a lot easier, since by this time i was about to literally starting pissing all over the place.
we made our exit and, back on the street, i told the homies to wait a minute for me. i wasn’t going to survive. i walked to the end of the block, looked every which way, and finally decided on the optimal spot: alongside a big rig. while my chances of getting spotted by a cop were pretty low, i didn’t rule out the possibility of the truck driver rolling out of bed in a vile mood and proceeding to beat the shit out of me for spraying his tires. the piss just kept coming and coming. i had to look back and forth, checking for cops, checking for furious truck drivers, simultaneously orgasming from sweet relief and dreading the impending citation and death sentence.
thankfully, none of that came to fruition. i had my relief and made my way back to the crew, who were at that moment following some random dude in glasses back to the warehouse. apparently they’d found someone they knew who was someone. lord how i relished walking past the dumbfounded bouncers and sliding into the club $80 richer, ready to party it up. between that and the piss, those were easily the most enjoyable two minutes of my entire life. i’m a simple man.
the party itself wasn’t much. its greatest asset was that it was taking place after 2 AM in California and continued to serve drinks. feeling high and happy, i made straight for the bar and bought a round of drinks for myself, Meryl, and some dude she had just ran into. hey random dude, have a fucking drink! let’s party! the hip hop bumping from the stage was decent, but i could tell it wasn’t what the people around me wanted. whatever. i left them and mingled like a weirdo on the dance floor, sipping my colt 45, bobbing my bum, and shaking my hips like a Latin spiced white boy. at some point, a girl came up and started grinding on me, but i just ignored her. i guess i didn’t find her ass shaking up to par.
back outside, i found myself talking to a random stranger. somehow we started talking about climate change. (yes, i brought it up.) i probably got odd and mystical, and he was over it. then i started hanging with this Asian girl and her friend Laura, which proves how much of a fucking asshole i am: the Asian girl was cool as hell, we split a hot dog, and she bought me another colt, but i don’t remember her name. but i do remember Laura’s name, who would hardly make eye contact with me let alone talk to me, because she was wearing a tiny pleated skirt and fishnets.
suddenly, Meryl, Molly, and i were in the backseat of a sedan flying across the city with two dudes in the front. i felt chatty. the sun was close to coming up, but we beat it. we ended up somewhere in central LA in their living room doing what any respectable adults do at sunrise on sunday mornings after a long night of drinking. that is, passing the keyboard and mouse around like a bunch of wired mammals, taking turns picking sights and sounds to impose upon each other, all the while talking at a fever pitch, saying everything, hearing nothing.
at one point, alien that i am, i left the discourse for a short walk to the liquor store to purchase some light beer and refreshments. nobody wanted refreshments. nearly nobody wanted light beer. i drank and laughed and then lyfted us the hell out of there.
blind to how shitty we looked, Chell was all tongue and smiles.
~~~~ 4 ~~~~
when i woke up, i felt like shit. and so i took a shit, theorizing that if there were less of me, i would feel less shitty. it kinda worked.
“whoa, your chest is way hairier than it used to be,” said Meryl.
thanks? i’m getting old. we’re all dying. i have a beautiful woman at home instead of an imaginary concubine of girls. i work from home and write for a living. usually, i’m a human. at the moment, i did not feel like one.
Meryl and i dressed, took Chell for a walk, and then returned to the Asian mall for ramen… but it was the afternoon. the place had already finished serving lunch and was closed while preparing for dinner. christ almighty, i felt like shit. we zombied around the shopping center until setting sights on an unassuming boba shop. i ordered a smoothie with all kinds of tropical fruit. sipped it out a giant straw made for sucking up boba. thought about requesting a different straw but then couldn’t stand. offered Meryl a sip.
we sat and shitted around together. talked about stuff. i talked about Natalie, but tried to talk about her as little as possible so i wouldn’t be that annoying lover. but she was definitely on my mind. i’d been away from her for a few days, and i could feel it. also, i suddenly realized how much i’d come to depend on her face and body and spirit for curing me of my hangovers. better than any drug, i would just nuzzle my face in her chest and instantly feel a hundred times better. like a dumb baby. i thought of telling Meryl about this but i thought it would be insulting because Natalie’s breasts are big and Meryl’s are not. my logic made no sense, which made perfect sense since my brain was only partially functional.
the hour was up, so we walked back to the Backhouse which wasn’t a ramen shop per se but actually a sushi bar and Asian fusion joint. but damnitall, we were getting ramen because our bodies needed it. while waiting, Meryl and i talked shit about people, talked love about people, talked shit about the election, and talked love about life. it was just regular ol chillin with an old friend. and the ramen kicked ass too.
back at her apartment, i mustered up some energy to wash dishes from the messy dinner party, though i hardly made a dent. trusting that Meryl’s man in the white overalls would appear at some point to help with the rest, i bid her adieu.
at Micah’s place, i sat down in the patio and videochatted w my love—best possible option in lieu of her actual bosom. she brought a smile to my face. she put Taja on camera, but she didn’t understand how the sound of my voice or my pixelated appearance could be disassociated from my smell. can something be real if it has no scent? how many billions of additional dollars will need to be invested before we have a functional VR system for man’s best friend? don’t waste the money. they don’t want to live in your virtual wasteland.
after the call, i showered and shared a smoke with Micah. and then we watched Fitzcarraldo.
yet another Werner Herzog masterpiece. operatic. vast. ambitious. futile. stark. raving. mad. a lovely float down the river. civilization, savagery. irony. violence, ecstasy. fiction or fact? a fucking mystery.
~~~~~ 5 ~~~~~
overnight, it rained. while Natalie reported pretty decent downpours up in the Bay Area, the LA rain was much lighter. but it was decent enough to leave my car a disgusting mess, as it had been parked under a tree that had needed a good cleaning itself.
it was the first day of the work week, and i still felt like a piece of shit, though that’s a notable improvement from feeling like the whole thing. just a piece. i ate some granola with kefir and did some work, but i wasn’t incredibly productive. so i turned my attention to Anna Karenina, whose prose is somehow so excellent that i was still able to read it in my low state. finished part one.
more quickly than i could have imagined, evening came around, so i hopped in the car and drove the short drive east to West Hollywood. the plan for the night was to have dinner w my dad and Tina, his coworker who had so graciously hosted Natalie and me for a night in Pennsylvania while on the walk.
our destination? the Ivy, a fancy schmancy restaurant famous for sitting on a block of designer stores and, by extension, playing host to celebrity sightings. i had to wait a bit because my dad got lost (he repeatedly blamed the app, but app’s are only stupid in that they do exactly what you tell them to do, so i assume he just entered in the wrong address). i went up to the restaurant to confirm the reservation anyway, and they offered me a complimentary glass of champagne while i waited. that’s a nice sign that you’re about to pay a hefty price for your meal.
eventually the other two arrived, and the waiter seated us. the menus were gigantic. i couldn’t even begin picking from the long lists of expensive entrées, so instead i observed our funny little dinner party. Tina was just how i remembered her. old but not old-looking, reserved but not meek, just calm and sweet. my dad was himself too, but he was definitely in special form, making all sorts of wisecracks, like joking about ditching out of work while reaching over to cover Tina’s ears with his hands. she seemed to just barely recoil. i wondered if i would have noticed that subtle reaction a year ago… certainly not ten years ago.
my dad let me choose the wine, as long as it wasn’t one of the ones priced in the thousands, so i picked a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles. for dinner, my dad and i both went with the evening’s special: a crab and lobster pasta. the meal was served smack in the middle of a cloven lobster body as if the chef hoped for us to visualize the red pasta and seafood bits as exploding guts. that’s how i visualized it anyway, as i gobbled it down while looking the dead creature in its cold, dead eyes. for dessert, they were out of the crème brûlée, so i was forced to get some baked apple bullshit. the espresso was great though.
with the business of dinner successfully executed, we said our goodbyes. the night was young and Meryl had texted me, so i took up her offer and cruised over to chill w her and her sidekicks. when i arrived, they were drinking champagne and watching Over the Garden Wall, an animated tv miniseries from cartoon network.
they’d just watched the first two episodes, and i ended up watching the remaining eight with them. i thought we’d be playing board games but i didn’t mind watching the show. i felt extremely positive about the kid with tea kettle hat. he inspired me.
Clara and Travis said their goodbyes soon after the show ended, so i did the same and cruised back to Micah’s place where the man was bouncing around.
“how did Fitzcarraldo end?” he asked.
i hardly remembered he’d fallen asleep for the last 30 minutes, so we agreed to put it back on and watch the grand finale. and that was that.
~~~~~~ 6 ~~~~~~
in the morning, i only felt like a fluttering fragment of shit. i was beginning to feel human.
the day before i’d gone on a restorative walk around the block, so i decided to do it again. got my stuff together and walked a couple blocks to the Cacao Coffee House on Santa Monica Blvd. as i entered the grungy hole in the wall, a petite punk girl lounging outside left her conversation and chair to follow me inside. she was back on duty. i ordered a Guatemalan pour-over and then sat down to work. the second day of the work week is always twice as productive as the first; it’s just a fact. the coffee, unfortunately, tasted awful.
back at Micah’s, i took a shower and dressed for the next item on the itinerary: sportsball. Micah had invited me to watch the Cubs and Dodgers play NLCS game 3 at a local pub chain called Barney’s Beanery. i was feeling my footsteps, so i walked the mile-and-a-half from Micah’s apartment to the pub.
there i was greeted by the jocose son of a bitch himself as well as three of his friends—two guys and a gal. as far as i gathered, they were all in the same or similar fields, studying brains. the two that actually seemed to care were rooting for the Cubs, and so was i. sadly, the team ended up getting completely trounced (though they later won the series). one of the Cubs fans was wearing a Dodgers cap with a rainbow-colored logo. i pointed out the contradiction, but his explanation was that “LA was gay.” throughout the evening, he jokingly called a couple other things gay, and i couldn’t tell if this was some metaphysical-extra-post-irony situation or whether he really just believed those things were legitimately gay. i kept these thoughts to myself.
one fairly decent mushroom pizza later, the game was done and so we piled into the gay dude’s tiny car for a ride home. Micah and i shared a smoke at his place and then decided to watch another movie. that is, another Werner Herzog movie. that is, my favorite Werner Herzog movie:
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
for the first time while sleeping in the man’s house, i actually shared the morning w Micah. we walked to a nearby bagel shop; he got the egg sandwich, i went for cream cheese and lox. both of us slugged down coffee.
we returned to the apartment and, seeing as it was the middle of the work week, i actually got a significant amount of work done.
my car was still epically filthy from the other night’s rain, so i asked Micah if he needed a ride anywhere; i was taking the pantyflasher for a wash. he jumped on the chance to get a ride to the laundromat, so i gave him a lift. after dropping him off, i went to the car wash spot and handed over $30. yes, i probably paid too much, but they did the whole thing by hand and it looked incredible.
feeling like i was steering a million-dollar antique, i rolled out of the car wash and down the block. now, i have a habit of going a block or two before buckling my seat belt. maybe it’s part of my broader American go-go-go mentality, but it’s how i am. i go and then i buckle up. unfortunately, California doesn’t care.
one block from the car wash, i roll up to a stop sign and a motorcycle cop drives by my window in the opposite direction, loudly proclaims “seatbelt!”, and whips a U-turn with sirens on. fucking a.
i pull over and the guy comes up saying, “if you don’t live a block from here, i’m writing this ticket.” i explained my case. i’d just left the car wash. my buddy lives two blocks from here. i always wear my seat belt.
it didn’t matter. the fucker wrote me up anyway. California Über Alles.
approximately $150 poorer, i picked up Micah at the laundromat and then drove back to his place. feeling sorry for myself, i laid down on my pad and stared into oblivion, cursing the nanny state and huffing and puffing how fucking close i was to casting a vote for Gary Johnson. oblivion didn’t care, and neither did California. my aimless anger and frustration eased me into sleep while Micah morphed through yoga poses right next to me.
when i woke up, i felt a lot better. the sun was setting and i had plans to see aerienne, but first Micah and i hungered. we considered going to a fancy Persian place, but instead opted for a cheap chicken kebab spot. thwarting my deepest desires, the final presidential debate materialized on the restaurant’s tv. i could see the slimeballs talking but couldn’t really hear what they were saying, so the food tasted pretty good.
after dinner, i left Micah and drove west to aerienne’s. from her place, we walked to 1642, a beer and wine bar in Historic Filipinotown. she was clearly a regular as the bartender greeted her and her guest with genuine love and hospitality. we ordered a couple pilsners and grabbed a table near the stage to be close to the music. the main attraction—why aerienne had brought me—was this swing band called the Hi Fi Honeydrops, who take over the place every week with snazzy suits, guitars, drums, and upright bass. the bassist was a woman barely tall enough to play the instrument, but she was killing it and singing at the same time! candlelit and old-time beats: the perfect way to spend my last evening in LA with my favorite poefriend.
we talked about life, we talked about love. she told me about how her uneasiness with living in LA and pursuing the music business. the wild of the mountains and a traveling life seemed to be reaching out to her. i sympathized, confessing my own anti-city sentiment. i also confessed how much i missed living near her so we could spill our poetic guts all over each other’s minds and bodies. there was nothing for her to do but agree, though there was no clear solution.
after just a couple beers and a couple sets from the band, aerienne started getting sleepy-eyed, so we walked back to the Gal Palace and said our peace.
~~~~~~~~ 8 ~~~~~~~~
asleep and dead, i woke up to move my car. the night before i’d been able to find nothing but a parking meter spot, so i had to move it before the meter took effect. thankfully, i quickly found a more permanent spot.
near the end of the work week—and largely surrendered to the fact that i was pretty much on vacation—i completed a small amount of work in the morning before Meryl rolled over. both of us hungry, we walked to Cafe 50’s, a (surprise!) American diner just a couple blocks from Micah’s place. i got a mediocre mushroom and Swiss omelette and Meryl got something that wouldn’t dairy-kill her. we wasted more time talking about the election, though it never felt like a waste. one-to-one political conversations with my best friends somehow always feel more valuable than the garbage spewed by any rabble larger than three.
following breakfast, we hopped in the pantyflasher and started the hourlong cruise to El Matador. we could’ve visited a hundred other beaches, but they mean nothing. El Matador means everything because of a special, eye-opening day…
I’d smooth out a large area with my hand, maybe grab a huge clump, let it fall down slowly, raining, scattering. I’d push my hands together and make a mound of sand. Then I’d grab another clump and let it rain on the mound. Maybe I’d push that together and make a bigger mound. I repeated that a few times. Then I cleared it out again. Sand everywhere. I was smoothing it, spreading it, poking holes in it, getting it under my nails, in between my fingers, getting into it. Then I realized that I had started to bury myself in sand. I was sitting cross-legged, but sand was all around my feet and up to my knees. I had been looking up from time to time, but my focus was always on the sand. I didn’t think I was tripping, was I?
this time around, almost a decade older, i was much more reserved. i walked w Meryl to a less crowded beach spot and applied sunscreen. tried to wait a minute for it to set in, then followed Meryl into the Pacific. the water was icy as usual but it was the hottest day in LA yet, with temperatures in the mid-90s. still, i jumped and screamed like a little child.
sitting on our towels, we chilled and chatted. Meryl played w the sand and rediscovered its perfect consistency. dark and purple and green and wet and just like clay. we both indulged in it, and she started building a mini-castle with a moat. a couple hundred feet away from us, a model took off her top and cupped her breasts for the photographer. the sun drew closer to setting, and more people appeared. some to simply dawdle, others to photograph the dazzling colors flooding the sky.
it was time to go.
on the drive back, Meryl dj’d from her fall playlist. it’s funny how Meryl music has such a distinctive sound: Leonard Cohen is king and the players allowed in his court must play songs that sound theatrical or cinematic. “all the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare, so let’s make the soundtrack appropriate. poetic lyrics, sexually ambiguous singers, surf twang, and country spray—i enjoyed it all.
once again back at Micah’s apartment, we said our hellos and then i jumped in the shower. scrubbed down, jojoba’d up, and then hopped into a lyft with my two best college buddies. it was a long, hilarious ride, made slightly awkward by my social faux pas of squeezing the three of us in the back seat. it actually wasn’t awkward at all cuz we’re all true homies. the driver just laughed.
at one point, Meryl joked about having been banned by a bar or two, and then Micah proceeded to tell us a story about almost being banned from a bar. except his story was all about jolly Micah being drunk ass fuck jolly Micah and egging on the bartender with a smile. so now they’re chill and Micah isn’t banned at all. the complete opposite, rather.
we arrived at our destination in Thai Town, but our target restaurant didn’t have the dish Micah and Meryl were after, so we walked on to the next. we weren’t after pad Thai or pad see ew or any of the standards at all. instead, the two Thai connoisseurs ordered khao soi (a rich broth with rice noodles), pork larb (scrumptious pile of meat), som tum (a fresh, juicy papaya salad), isan sausages, plus some poorly cooked sticky rice (the first batch was burnt and the second was barely sticky). in heaven, we all sipped on delicious Thai iced teas, though Meryl had hers without condensed milk (still good!).
following the meal, we took another short lyft to the Virgil for Funkmosphere.
we made it just in the nick of time to avoid the $5 cover. with their stamps good to go, Meryl and Micah ducked out to go buy cigarettes. i went up to the quieter of the two bars and ordered myself a Fernet, my favorite go-to drink after a meal. i took a sip of SF and then returned to the main dance floor, where the dj was laying down solid, sweet, sexy funk—all vinyl. still fat and sober, i took a seat near the back of the crowd and slowly sipped the dark digestif, taking in the beastly beats and cool moves.
the place was pretty much as i imagined it. Dâm-Funk has good taste. the records sounded supreme, the lighting was real low, there were plenty of spots to post up and sit with a drink and a friend, and the dance area was easy and approachable. and, if i may say again, damn that funk was good.
i found Micah with a pint of beer and clinked glasses with him. then i spotted Clara, beautiful and serene as ever in her own little world, standing alone at the bar. we were only standing a few feet away but her eyes were averse to contact. i laughed and lifted a limb to wave, but her gaze turned even more inward or away, who knows. at this point, i felt clumsy, so i walked up to her, said whatup, and introduced Micah. Meryl showed up a moment later.
the rest of the crew was even less ready to dance, so i suggested we sit down at a table on the quiet side of the bar. Micah was captivated by Clara; who wouldn’t be? generally, Meryl and Clara stuck to their conversation while Micah and i stuck to ours. at some point, i picked him up another pint and a neat double rye for myself. the High West sitting on the counter called my name.
i hadn’t insisted on visiting the funkiest venue in LA on a thursday night to sit around and shoot the shit, so i parted from my friends to go dance a little—even if it was all by myself. goddamn, that funk. wish i could feel it every week.
eventually Micah came after me, and we did the straight dude hop in the middle of the dance floor. i felt free. sadly, the main act of the night came on soon after, and seriously brought the 2008 vibes. i mean, funk is eternal, but i wasn’t digging the transition from deep, well-curated, old-school funk to this silly, ironic, hipstery LA duo. besides, they basically just pressed play on a machine and sang. may as well have gone to the karaoke night Meryl was so desperate to drag us to.
we ditched the dance floor and wheeled back to the quiet bar, where i bought Micah and myself another round. (the ladies had been taking care of themselves.) when the bartender handed me my rye with a fat iceberg floating in the middle, i smiled and said, “it’s all good… but there’s ice in here.”
“oh shit!” he said. “you ordered it neat, didn’t you?”
“here, hand it back.”
“no, no, no,” i said. “it’s all good.”
“hand. it. back.”
well, shit, i wasn’t about to fight my bartender so i handed him the glass and a few moments later he gave me a new one with double the rye, neat. i think he literally just dumped the ice cube out and added more whiskey to warm it back up to room temperature.
“let’s go to karaoke!” said Meryl, as i took the very first sip of my now-double double rye.
“i got this drink,” i said, showing her the two inches of brown liquid floating in the tumbler. i wasn’t going anywhere fast.
the four of us sat down in a dusty alcove decorated with antique furniture and dull, orange lights. the room and the rye filled me with alien energy, like i was lounging in an ancient European den or some deceased baron’s anteroom. Meryl kept insisting that we join them for karaoke, and i tried to subtly make it clear i wasn’t going. i just don’t really care for it. eventually, after many a Meryl petition, she took “no” for an answer. we hugged a hearty hug goodbye, and then Clara gave me her hand. i thought it was weirdly formal or just stilted, so i took it graciously and bowed, my piles of curls toppling all over the place. she smirked.
the men remained in the den just 10 or 15 minutes longer, serenely finishing our drinks and enjoying James Brown directing “The Funky Drummer” from the jukebox. i’ll take that over hipster funk any day. finally, we said goodbye to the Virgil.
at home, we smoked and indulged in a few final tunes of the night: “space is only noise if you can see” was my first choice, followed by Max Richter’s From Sleep. Micah seemed to love it, and we both fell into a deep sleep.
~~~~~~~~~ 9 ~~~~~~~~~
for the second morning in a row, i had to move my car in the morning, half-asleep, half-dead.
i had a call with an executive early, so instead of waking Micah with my blabbing, i waited in my car for the appointed time. a few minutes before, i flipped on my computer to get ready to take notes and record the call. computer? dead.
fuck, i ran like a maniac the half-block to Micah’s apartment and grumbled apologetically, “i gotta take this call from the bathroom.”
“that’s cool,” he said, three-quarters asleep.
i plugged everything in, plopped down on the toilet, and waited for the call. amazingly, it came on time. we exchanged cordialities and then got down to business. well, we would have got down to business, but i made the mistake of saying, “we need some context before we move forward,” so he agreed and said we should reschedule for a time when the whole team could join the call.
with the majority of my day’s work done, i clocked out of the bathroom and started packing up. fuck it, i figured, i was awake and wanted to surprise Natalie with my early arrival. peace, i said to Micah, and i was on my way.
at the first gas station, i filled up, and then scrolled to “San Francisco” in my phone to pick some music to kick off the drive. besides picking the album that comes alphabetically after my destination’s name, i also like to pick the album that matches the duration of the drive. or, since i had six hours ahead of me, the longest possible. my eyes landed on Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin. for a second, i questioned this ridiculous system: was i really going to spend the first two hours of my drive out of LA listening to eerie ambient music? yes. yes, i was.
out of the city, through the valley, over the grapevine, the first disc carried me. my stomach grumbled and my tongue wagged for a sausage mcmuffin, so that’s what i ate. two of them. the second one free. don’t ask.
the rest of the drive was uneventful, soundtracked by Peter Gabriel, Dead Kennedys, and various others, ferrying me across the Central Valley, over the Altamont Pass, across the Bay Bridge, and into that legendary city by the bay.
i found the house in complete disarray. Natalie wasn’t expecting me until the next night, so she would later swear to me that she had planned to clean up before i got back. i didn’t care, i was so excited to see her that i spruced up the place to kill time, gobbled down a little dinner, scrubbed myself clean, and waited for her love.