At LAX on Monday morning the guy barking the line at security has rhyming patter: “Put it in the bin, or they’ll run it again! Then you won’t be on the flight: not ‘till tonight!” I am a huge fan of everyday showmanship so this guy is winning huge with me. He is winning huge with everyone around me in line as well: we are used to being confused and bullied at this part of the airport experience rather than being performed for in verse. I don’t care what your job is, if you have a shtick for how you do it, I want us to be friends. The tackier the shtick, the closer friends we will be.
The opening notes of “Skyway” by the Replacements come on as we’re boarding, part of the pre-flight music being piped in over the intercom. I am stoked, but then the vocals come in and I realize it is a decidedly schmaltzier, shittier cover. Dude, Delta: you are playing a cover of “Skyway” – you are so close to just playing “Skyway!” Go the full nine!
We receive videotaped safety instructions from the large-mouthed red-headed Delta lady. She’s kind of famous, huh?
I am in first class, a rare treat I take full advantage of by drinking like, three club sodas. I have the window seat and rather than sleeping I become engrossed in looking out the window during takeoff, because it’s cloudy this morning in Los Angeles but as soon as we break the low layer of clouds, it’s solid white below and blue above with hills poking up a ways away. There are some houses dotting the hills and I think how cool it would be to have one of those houses on a morning like this. You would really need to be in the part of your life where you could have a leisurely morning, though, or you’d feel guilty for rushing around looking for your cellphone charger and just trying to get out the door when there was an endless kingdom of immaculate cloud outside your window that you couldn’t really enjoy.
It turns out one of the guys who is in the commercial with me is sitting next to me. We don’t realize this until we’re in Atlanta de-planing. At baggage claim there are two Georgia Lottery storefronts and people are psyched about the Georgia Lottery, the storefronts are packed. We find the PA who is there to pick us up and follow him out to his car. Gucci Mane is playing on the radio. We are officially in Atlanta, where the PA says when it rains, it almost always rains around 2 or 3 PM, and then only for fifteen minutes, and it’s nice because it cools everything off.
They have put us up in a very nice hotel with iPod docks in the rooms and very carefully selected art covering the walls and constant throbbing techno everywhere that isn’t where you sleep. They still charge for wireless. I open my laptop and see that I have three different browser windows open from throughout the day of traveling where various places (the airport, the plane, the hotel) have all tried to charge me for wireless. I finally give in. To their credit, on receiving my payment and connecting me to the Internet, my laptop does not immediately start playing techno.
Among the art on my walls: a picture of the Stone Mountain Confederates. Donald is from Stone Mountain and he says there is a famous laser show that takes place at Stone Mountains. I’ve never been clear on whether or not this laser show actually incorporates these giant stone Confederates. I am betting it does, along with, inexplicably, the song “Sweet Home Alabama.”
After dinner I am going to go bum around the mall near my hotel. I am headed downstairs at 8:10, and not only is it not dark outside, it’s not even dusk. Georgia, admit to being strange. Waiting for the elevator I lean against a window and it’s hotter than fuck.
I mistakenly assume Buckhead, where our hotel is, is part of downtown Atlanta, but a PA will later inform me that it isn’t. I assumed it was because it’s tons of glittering new office buildings and futuristic hotels and condos that kind of shoot up out of nowhere. You’re driving along and it’s this wall of lush green everywhere you look and then all of the sudden, this superblock of brand-new skyscrapers just appears. Buckhead is like a megacorporation put their headquarters on a forest planet. It’s clean and strange, and pretty, particularly at sunset.
I catch the mall at a weird time: The place is cavernous and it’s just getting dark out but they haven’t turned on the lights inside the mall yet, so it feels dark and empty even if it's crowded and loud. The mall does not have a bookstore for me to kill time in. This makes it significantly less tempting to blow my per diem.
At some point back in my room I am thinking that as sad as it is, the story of Michael Jackson is just beginning. A great deal of the weirdest Elvis stuff, cult-wise, didn’t happen until he died. Jackson was such profoundly strange, universally beloved figure, there are bound to be some truly unbelievable things/beliefs that build up around the man. I sort of can’t wait to see what he’ll become in the public imagination.
(And I won’t apologize for still talking about it this long after the fact. I don’t think we should be self-conscious about talking about those week-old things the Internet’s accelerated news cycle has made us think are somehow already passé, and I think it’s kind of weird and sad I even had a moment of “This? Still?” I secretly hope that that accelerated news cycle brings about a counter-revolution of slow, considered, thoughtful stuff. Or if not a full-on counter-revolution, an underground market for things that are unapologetically long and untopical.)
In anticipation of his new album, Donald has released a new mixtape under his MCDJ name. It’s called FUCK YASELVES! I drew the cover art and am on several of the tracks, including a track from the upcoming album called “Starlight.” And it’s free! Download it here.
EDIT: Link to Donald's mixtape fixed.
By Sunday I am un-Zen about the whole not-talking thing. You miss the little ways you would modify and buffet a conversation. You miss input. It’s torture for an insufferable know-it-all. I like to be quiet for the first part of the day, sure, but once the sun goes down, boy, it’s proclaimin’ time. This general fatigue is compounded by the fact that I’ve learned I’ll be flying to Atlanta to do a commercial on Monday: it would be day five of my seven days of prescribed vocal rest. I momentarily consider not doing it, but it’s good money, and getting paid to travel and act is a gift. As Lil Wayne would have it, “the street keep callin', I gotta change my number.”
Donald and I eat lunch around the corner from our place, outside on the balcony in a fog of menopause. Everyone that isn’t us on the balcony is a woman in her 40’s, or in two cases, their rail-thin daughters. There are two women who I can see over Donald’s left shoulder. They are at the end of a lunch full of long, mournful pauses. At one point, the woman facing me says: “For twenty five years?” She then stares off meaningfully for a long time and I’m pretty sure they pay and leave without anyone saying anything else. I hear sobbing over my shoulder. I think it’s the other pod of women in their 40’s but it’s actually at least one of their daughters. The waitress comes to check in with them and they all start conversing back and forth in, I think, Greek. A lot of times I wish I had big painterly European emotions, unapologetically vibrant and dramatic, instead of small, hardy Nordic ones, wandering the wastes and dying before they get anywhere.
We go walking around the fancy shopping-y part of our neighborhood. The steroids continue to make me feel like a goofball. On Saturday night they were making me feel anxious and aggressive. Now they are making me feel placid and very, very tall. A dude passes us, wearing Abercrombie and Fitch and bragging about an amount of vodka Red Bulls he or someone else had had at some point in the past. I would do my share of really thin, shrill “non-conformist” anti-Abercrombie and Fitch ranting in high school, but secretly, I always liked the smell of their cologne. That and I wanted to live on the island depicted in their catalog where all you did was go shirtless, play touch football, and fuck.
Later, Dom and Donald and I are driving to the movies to see “Anvil: The Story Of Anvil.” We are stopped at a light when a motorcade of cops on motorcycles crosses in front of us, escorting an ambulance. “We’ll never know if that was Michael Jackson’s body,” Donald says. I will probably tell my kids that it was.
The theater we go to is kind of old-fashioned and run-down and generally feels like a movie-cave in all the right ways. It has art-deco fixtures full of cobwebs and emitting half-hearted light before the movie starts and the musty feeling of field trips to matinees where you’d see non-Disney animated fare, like “Fievel Goes West” or “The Chipmunk Adventure.” There is no MovieTunes, just the sound of people filtering into the auditorium, and no highlight reel of advertising before the previews, just extremely out-of-focus movie trivia slides, and one slide that says “Thanks For Not Smoking!” though I kind of think if you wanted to you could and no one would stop you.
We go home and do work and when we knock off around two-thirty Dan and Donald and I are starving so we go to the Pacific Dining Car, the classy L.A.-noir fixture I’d seen on the way to my doctor’s appointment the other day, because it’s open twenty-four hours and we are gentlemen of taste and refinement. I drive, and I am starting to like driving late at night. It’s foggy and cool out and the road is mostly empty.
The restaurant is ancient and wood-paneled and vacant except for one other table, and they’re only serving breakfast, and golly if it isn’t one of the best meals I’ve ever had. It hits the spot and then asks if the spot has any friends and the spot texts those friends and the friends come over and it hits them too, like a rap song. I am overjoyed with the food and the ambiance so I treat myself to some whispering. Communicating is the best. It truly fucking is. Other than us talking quietly and the people behind us talking quietly, there is no sound but our forks on our plates. There’s no music playing. It’s fantastic. More places could be quieter. More places could serve Cajun eggs benedict.
A few hours later Dan drives me to the airport through a foggy purple preview of dawn. I will readily admit that I was bummed to leave and already excited to come back. No bullshit.
Meggie has just gotten back from New York so to celebrate, we go to the beach. For the occasion I have made a beach-mix CD full of heavy hitters. Before we pull out of our parking garage, one of us points out the Rolls Royce that is parked with a welcome mat sitting outside of the driver’s side door. Lucky for us, the driver of this car then appears. He gets something from his car, then leaves the parking garage to walk his poodle. We make fun of him without his knowledge inside our parked car with the windows rolled up. It’s very snobs vs. slobs.
The plan is to go to Redondo Beach, where our friend Daniel runs a restaurant, so we can lay on a beach he recommended and then eat at his place afterward. On the drive out to the beach we pass several things that prove that Google is both good and bad. One is in Venice, an austere little building labeled the Institute Of Jurassic Technology. The next is near Redondo, a Roundtable Pizza whose marquee reads “I LOVE YOU WONDERWHEEL.” Now we could easily Google these things and we would, with truly astounding quickness we take for granted, be provided with probably very simple answers about what these things are and mean. But then we would be robbing ourselves of the image of a little shack-laboratory in Venice run by a disgraced paleontologist filled with dioramas of T-Rexes piloting backhoes and helicopters, or the image of a sad and mostly crazy middle-aged Roundtable Pizza owner-operator who, as his wife has withdrawn further and further from him (and further and further into her affair with the hot-shot night-manager of the CPK ASAP across the street) has started to develop a very real, very dangerous romantic obsession with a carnival ride down at the boardwalk. (I realize both of these mental images center around sad little men. But let’s be honest, on their way to the really dangerous crazy stuff, sad little men do some pretty hilarious shit.)
The beach Daniel recommended is really hard for us to find, but in trying to find it we wind through some gorgeous scenery. It is a place where it is hard to be mad you are lost because you sound ridiculous when you say, “Shit, another breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean? Are you fucking serious?”
Once we sort of get our bearings, a street fair keeps thwarting our attempts to get down to the beach by blocking off every street that wants to take us there. Finally, we’re there. We know we are there when a man is smoking a joint in front of the public restroom. The beach is the best, you guys.
The second song that plays after we walk into Daniel's restaurant is “National Anthem” by Radiohead, to which we once did an incredibly bloody choreographed zombie-killing sequence live on stage in a Hammerkatz show in college. It was in this group that we met Daniel and Steve and Robbie and Matt and all the old knuckleheads, who we all used to be in a sketch comedy group together and now we’re all adult people in the world. It is always neat to see Daniel in his element, being the fucking man, bringing crazy absinthe-soaked cocktails to our table, waving to regulars as they leave satisfied, and think about not so long ago when we’d block out comedic swordfights for upcoming shows in darkened lecture halls at two in the morning when we all had class the next day.
On this particular night it is almost a requirement to be seated at this restaurant that you be a family, and that one member of your family be an eleven- or twelve-year-old boy wearing a red and white little league uniform.
Early on in the meal Daniel brings us a Caprese salad featuring mozzarella made “down the street.” If you said “Hey man, sorry, Caprese is the only food left in the world,” I’d kiss you square on the mouth. I love the stuff.
At a certain point a man walks in wearing a blazer and jeans and sandals. In my head I instantly christen him Danger Man.
I haven’t been drinking for a week or so since I’ve been trying to dispatch my neck/throat mystery malady, and I am definitely missing that part of the experience. I am also missing the talking part of the experience. Sitting at the end of the table fidgeting, I realize that the steroids the doctor prescribed are making me jumpy and irritable, but not talking is robbing me of a main outlet for that jumpiness and irritability. I'm in my own little hole of aimless not-positive energy. The serenity of the not-talking thing is canceled out by the professional wrestler running around inside of me telling my thoughts and emotions that he'll see them at SummerSlam. The steroids are also making me think, “Feh, I could talk.” I don’t, which is good. I just sit there being twitchy and not particularly great company.
When we get home and I climb into bed I realize I am not used to coming home from the beach with sand on me and climbing into a bed that isn’t a hotel bed. I am not used to coming home from the beach and getting into a bed I’m going to have to inhabit for more than one night. I don’t know any better. I should have known better than to throw my beached-up sanded-out backpack on the bed first thing upon entering the room, though. That’s just basic room-entering stuff.
At one point on Friday I am going to walk across the street to the ATM. I figure on listening to music while I do it, so I pull out my industry-standard big chunky headphones with the long cord. Then I think, in my limited experience, people don’t so much wear the chunky headphones out here. In New York where everyone has a backpack or a bag or something to put big chunky headphones in, they’re ubiquitous. But I don’t feel like you see them a lot in L.A. I am very in my head about it for two to three minutes. Then I say “fuck it” and go out into the afternoon, cord swinging.
Later, Donald and I drive to the Santa Monica Pier while listening to a best-of-Michael-Jackson mix. Beforehand, on the way down in the elevator, he shares with me the fact the “Door Closed” buttons in elevators don’t actually work. They haven’t for a long time. They’re just there to give you a sensation of control.
It is an odd thing to recall on a sunny afternoon in California, but “Human Nature” is one of the great night time in New York songs. Play it back to back with “I Can’t Help It” off “Off The Wall” at your next roof party. You’ll wanna take the whole skyline home with you. I played “I Can’t Help It” at a party Donald had last year and it’s one of my best New York memories, and all that happened is I dropped a needle on a record and looked straight ahead.
The first thing we do is buy hot dogs on sticks from a stand labeled “HOT DOG STICK.” The employees of HOT DOG STICK have to wear old-school nerdy uniforms, big red/blue/yellow/white stripes. A kid is staffing the booth while his girl-employee counterpart is sitting on the curb outside chatting with friends.
A father and his little girl are behind us in line. The girl says she sees a hole in the fence and they should just sneak into the boardwalk area where the games are. “They have guards there,” her dad says. “The guards have guns.” Jesus, Dad.
One of the girl-employee’s friends breaks off and starts hitting on the kid behind the counter hardcore. “I can just give you a ride,” she says. He protests that he has to go home after work before he goes to wherever they'll see each other later. “I don’t want to make a double trip,” she says. He is doing the general I-want-to-talk-to-you-but-I-have-to-work split-focus thing. Dude, hot dog kid. Accept the ride.
We walk up the stairs to where the carnival games and stuff are. By the time we reach the end of the pier, the sun is starting to set and it’s getting cold. It’s a rare June opportunity to wear a hoodie with the hood up. I am also not talking, and I have a beard, so even if I’m not brooding or being introspective, it looks for all the world like I am. Men and boys are fishing, some of them tending to multiple fishing poles. This would be a good place to run two-bit hustles with the street kid I have taken underneath my greasy wing.
There is a street musician at the end of the pier all bundled up, singing in Spanish into a microphone and playing guitar over a pre-recorded backing track. Donald says, “Is that guy lip-syncing?” We watch him for a long time, and we become convinced that he is.
On the way back to the car, we stop and watch people practice at an outdoor trapeze school for a while. It’s right there on the pier, among the rides and games. I think I could be just fine behind closed doors in an indoor trapeze facility, but I’m sure I would blow it when it came time to try shit out in the open air on a Friday night in front of a lot of gawking dudes in Famous Stars And Stripes hats and tight black t-shirts who had just won stuffed gangster aliens for their girlfriends.
"This place is like high school," Donald says, right for a reason I can't pin down.
Two teenage boys walk by us, one visibly nerdier than the other. “Craig, you’re my mother!” the less nerdy one says, exasperated. “I am!” the nerdy one says. It is rare that the protagonist of the movie you don't know you're an extra in and his geeky friend walk right by you like that.
We are back in the car and driving home. A girl is running on the sidewalk, then she stops on the corner and drops her jean shorts. She is wearing a dress, but it's still kind of an abrupt disrobing. She sees me see her do this, and laughs.
I bought an E.T. keychain, E.T. riding in the basket of Elliot’s bike, for a buck ninety nine in the junk store across the street from my apartment in Queens a few months ago. At some point on Friday, I take my keys out and the bike and E.T. have come loose from the keychain, leaving Elliot hanging there, hood up, knees bent, arms out, like he’s jumping out of an alley to mug somebody. This is a big bummer. The keychain itself was on the large side but I liked it a lot and was happy I found it.
That night, Dan and I get dinner from Taco Zone, a taco truck in Echo Park in the parking lot of a supermarket that our buddy Eric recommended. It seems like the place to go if you are two guys. Most every party standing around the taco truck is two guys, or multiples of two guys. They have a bucket full of drinks and the only soda they have is cans of regular Coke, a simplicity that’s probably unintentional but that I appreciate a lot. When people would be mad that we were out of particular soda when I used to bartend at UCB, my general feeling was, “Hey, shut up.” The tacos are outstanding and six tacos and two sodas run us nine dollars and seventy five cents.
We eat standing in the supermarket parking lot off the trunk of my car. It is the second time that day I have been out with someone and not been able to talk. It’s actually not so bad. There is the occasional writing-something-down-and-passing-it for a specific question but mostly I employ a finger-whirling “say more stuff” gesture. When we’re finished, I walk back to the taco truck, drop our greasy paper plates in a trashcan, and then I drive us home.
Twitter tells me there was a spontaneous Michael Jackson dance party tonight (Saturday) at UCBTNY. The first or third thing I thought when I found out he died was "there better be a party at UCB tonight." The man saved our ass in the DJ booth so many times over the years. It took 'till the weekend but you came through. I love you guys.
Eliza has an incredible personal tribute, very fun and simple and awesome. I love the phrase "Punk-Except-For-This" and want to start a zine called that LIKE, IMMEDIATELY.
On my way to the pharmacy on Wednesday, a sushi chef is sitting in front of the not-very-good sushi restaurant near us. Three Caucasian teenage girls are sitting around him. He is inspecting one of their hands with a flashlight. This happened on Wednesday, not Thursday, but it was so strange that I remembered it for two days, and I thought it was worth mentioning.
We shipped all of our stuff here from New York and peoples’ things have been arriving in waves. On Thursday morning Dom and I help Dan bring a bunch of boxes full of Styrofoam packing peanuts downstairs to the garage, where we will load them into Dan’s car, and Dan will then drive around and find a dumpster. How nice it would be if there was a dumpster downstairs, everyone says. When we get all the boxes to the car we realize they won’t all fit. There are some blue recycling bins near the entrance to the parking garage, so we decide to dump the packing peanuts in there, break the boxes down, and then pack the boxes in the car.
I am dragging the first of the boxes over to the recycling bins when it becomes clear I’m leaving a trail of packing peanuts. Then I do a really poor job of pouring the peanuts into the bin and more peanuts fall to the concrete floor of the garage. The first box’s worth fills the bin to the brim so we have to drag the rest around the corner, where there are additional blue recycling bins. In this dragging and pouring process, more peanuts are spilled. The floor is at this point covered in little white peanuts. Our building is full of rich old people who hate us. We just turned the place they park their Bentleys into not-very-good art. Dan goes inside to grab his phone and encounters the building manager, the lady whose job it has been to communicate to us that everyone in the building hates us. She is on her way down to the garage. Dan warns her about what we’ve done and promises we’ll clean it up.
To make good on that promise we spend the next twenty minutes or so bent over, chasing individual packing peanuts around the garage. I am a man who has taken a week-long vow of silence, and I am picking up tiny little white things one by one, and I will never be done. At this point I’m pretty sure my life is not so much my life as it is a story a Zen master in a robe is telling his students on a misty mountaintop somewhere.
Dan is bringing the last of the boxes around the corner to empty them out when a maintenance guy shouts at him: “Bro, there’s a dumpster.” Dan and Dom end up taking the emptied boxes to the dumpster and no one ever has to drive around.
Picking up the last of the peanuts, I get to watch some movers in the alley drop something enormous and wooden out of the back of a moving truck, causing the lady who is overseeing their work to go “WHOA WHOA WHOA!” It’s nice to feel like only the second least competent people in the belly of our building.
Later at the pharmacy I am waiting out the tail end of a two-day doctor/pharmacist back-and-forth. A mom has just dropped off her prescription and is walking away from the counter. Her son, a toddler with long blonde hair, follows her, but not before purposefully smacking a hanging rack of lotion bottles, sending them swinging back and forth. Without really turning around or stopping, the mom says, “Please don’t do that, honey, that’s not nice.” Another boy, someone else’s around the same age, runs up and stops the lotion bottles from swinging, to prove his moral superiority or something.
Walking back from the pharmacy, two kids stopped at a stoplight are playing “Thriller.” We’ve all just found out Michael Jackson is dead. I nod at them emphatically. The guy in the driver’s seat is dancing, wearing sunglasses. The girl in the passenger seat smiles at me. Music is unstoppable. If you told me we were a by-product of music instead of the other way around, that we only existed to make music’s life more pleasant, that would make me very happy.
I’ve always had a fake theory about Michael Jackson, and here it is. It’s not weird that he turned out so weird. It is written into the human genome that any one of us has the potential to make “Off The Wall” and “Thriller” and “Bad,” but once we do it, we will turn into a wizened pedophile elf. It is the sacrifice. The price to be paid. And you might reasonably ask, “Does it have to be those EXACT albums, or could it be three works of art that are equally brilliant?” And I would respond that it could be that it’s just those three albums exactly, and that’s why no other brilliant artist has had that exact transformation except for him. Or it could be that it’s three equally brilliant works, and no three other things have ever been that good.
At dinner, a girl at the table next to us tells her friend the story of when she fell asleep studying Marxist theory and her boyfriend woke her up and she was mumbling something about Marxist theory in her sleep. The way and the amount of times she says the phrase “Marxist theory” tells you that she gets a big kick out of the fact that she studied Marxist theory.
I don’t say anything all day, but once at dinner I slip up and grunt “Yeah” to clarify whose entrée is whose to a very confused food-runner. Dan and Donald have told the waitress about my deal, and at first, she doesn’t believe them, but then when she does believe them, she is very sweet and sympathetic and this is the source of no end of thumbs-ups from Dan and Donald’s side of the table after she walks away.
I am having lots of fun with text-to-speech generators on my laptop and an iPhone app that does basically the same thing. As far as actual mouth-utilizing communication, I’m pretty much limited to tongue clicks and whistles. So I can either be ashamed of you, or communicate that you have the nicest set of gams to walk by my construction site all morning. That’s about it. Not being able to say little incidental “Hi’s” and “Thank yous” to people throughout the day is the hardest part. Behind closed doors I stick close to my speech-generating laptop, and I wear chunky sunglasses to enhance the robot effect. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
On Wednesday morning I drive to my rescheduled doctor’s appointment well on time. I am reading a Joe Strummer biography right now and I listen to Disc 1 of “The Story Of The Clash” in the car. I hear a line I’ve never heard before in “This Is Radio Clash:” “Please save us, not the whales.” How we have lived on a Joe Strummer-less planet for seven years now is beyond me.
My route takes me down Wilshire through Koreatown. There’s a sort of mini-downtown in Koreatown before you reach L.A.’s actual downtown. A lot of old signs up on spindly scaffoldings at the tops of buildings, the kind you get shot dead at the foot of if you’re the villain in the climax of a noir movie.
Adding to the noir effect: I drive by the Pacific Dining Car, beloved by James Ellroy, my favorite living two-fisted L.A. “detectives beating the shit out of a guy they’ve chained to the radiator in 1956” author, and I think mentioned in a bunch of his books. I want to be cruising by in a big black tank of an old car while me and Lucky Luciano half-joke about killing JFK, but I will have to settle for puttering by in my Jetta by myself on my way to the ear nose and throat doctor.
I park in a parking garage and I don’t have any cash on me. I think about one of the things I have to think about now and decide to hit up a Wells Fargo across the street to get money to pay for parking. There is one ATM in front of the bank, and a man with a gray ponytail is cleaning it. I sort of stand there until he notices me. “It’ll be a while,” he says without turning around. I ask if there are any other ATMs, like inside the bank. He tells me there aren’t. I decide to return to this bank, this one bank left in the modern world that isn’t just an anchor for like fifty ATMs, after my appointment.
There are lots of older folks in the ear nose and throat doctor’s waiting room, and this gets me thinking about mortality. Joe Strummer died when he was fifty. I’ll be 50 in 2035. I like that, it seems like a long way off, even though I’m sure I will continue to experience days and years exponentially faster until I’m fifty after a period of time that feels like I should only be about twenty-six.
An old man in the waiting room has a hard time hearing the receptionist when she calls his name, which is exactly what you want to see happen in this waiting room. I’m sorry, but you do. If someone’s nose had fallen down their throat while they sat there reading a magazine, we would’ve exhausted that waiting room’s comic potential.
The receptionist talks quietly to her kid on the phone. “If you’re hungry,” she says. “make a peanut butter sandwich.”
Eventually a nurse comes to get me. On our way to the room where I will wait for the doctor, we pass a painting of a chicken wearing a surgical mask.
I am at the doctor because for the past few months my throat has been bugging the crap out of me. It’s gotten progressively worse to the point where talking is frequently or with any volume is not fun. And this is not fun, because I am a performer, but more importantly, a proclaimer of drunken opinions.
I tell the doctor my symptoms, and then she numbs up my nose and sticks a camera through a nostril and down my throat. She doesn’t see anything that worries her. Then we talk some more, and finally a distinction is drawn between “throat” and “neck” that a second grader or a dog could understand instantly, but it takes me a while. Then it is determined that my thing is more of a neck thing than a throat thing. The doctor explains her thinking to me in detail before giving me a course of action, which is neat to hear, and comforting. In short, she doesn’t know what’s up but she thinks we should try some things to narrow it down.
She recommends a week of vocal rest, which she defines as not talking at all. “I know,” she says. “It’s incredibly difficult.” She tells the story of a nurse in this very building who was going to go to Nashville and record a country CD, but her throat was massively fucked up, so she communicated with a pen and pad all day every day leading up to when she was supposed to leave to record her CD. And the rest did the trick and she went and sang. She describes the nurse as a “motivated patient,” a phrase I love. It makes me want to be a motivated patient, to monk the fuck up for seven days. Also she says, use a heating pad, and I’m going to prescribe you some steroids. The steroids, she says, might make you feel weird, like you can’t sleep, or like you're very happy, or very sad. Or they might just be fine. She restates her “I don’t know, but we’ll try this” thesis, and says maybe the rest and the drugs will “break the cycle,” if there is in fact a cycle. I very much want to break the cycle, because we are going to Comic Con at the end of July and I want to talk to everybody. Fucking LOST is going to be two booths down from us. No joke.
On the drive home, I listen to the radio. I end up on a poetry show, which sounds like a parody of NPR. “It’s a sestina,” the guest poet says about the poem she’s about to read. “Mmm!” says the host, like someone has just offered her homemade cobbler or some oral sex.
When I get back to the apartment, I rasp out some words to Dom about my prognosis and then I dummy up. I communicate the situation to everyone else via text message, and later in person I talk (inefficiently) through a text-to-speech website I’ve got open on my laptop, and we all geek out about how fun it is going to be to have, as Donald puts it, a robot friend. I quickly determine which swear words the computer pronounces well and which ones it mangles. It has a hard time with “dick,” which you would think would be easy.
There is a whole pharmacy snafu which means I can’t get my drugs ‘till the next day and as I’m walking home, a mute man defeated, I let a guy into my building who’s waiting downstairs, buzzing in. He has an aggressive hairstyle and designer jeans where one back pocket is torn away and flapping there to reveal a layer of studs underneath. He does not say thank you when I hold the door open for him. I’m actually sort of grateful because this means I don’t have to say anything back, so I don’t seem weird. He has saved me from seeming rude by being rude. Then I go to check the mail, and when I round the corner from the mail-room, he is holding the elevator door open for me. I nod and smile but I can’t say “Thank you.” Fuck. I am mad at him for being nice. He has unwittingly fucked up the balance of social pleasantry.
I accidentally croak out a few “sures” or “no problems” in the course of the rest of the evening, but other than that I manage to stay silent. Dom orders for me when we go to get dinner. What I can’t communicate through text message or scrawlings in my notebook or exaggerated silent-film gestures, I don’t. It’s actually kind of still and peaceful and fun, to tell you the truth.
I start Tuesday by fucking up. I have a doctor’s appointment at three and I am leaving myself plenty of time to get there, since I’ve never been there before and Google Maps says it’s a ways away, and I’m supposed to arrive a half-hour early. As is customary for me I burn through a bunch of time I’ve allocated to getting there by, like, taking too long to put on my shoes, but I’m still okay. Right as I’m going to head down to the garage I realize I don’t know the name of the doctor I’m seeing once I get there. I’ve written it down in my planner. Another thing I’ve written down in my planner: my appointment is at two. Meaning I’m supposed to be there at one-thirty. It’s two o’clock now.
I get in my car and call the place and apologize profusely to the receptionist and ask if I can still come in. She gets on the other line with the doctor to ask him if he’ll see me. She gets back on and says HE apologizes profusely but, no, he’s going to a meeting. We reschedule for Wednesday morning. She says it’s going to be with a different doctor. I say I’ve never been in there before so, you know, fine. Thank you.
I stand in line for coffee thinking about how elegant my thinking is: I had a meeting at three on Monday. Therefore, all my appointments for the week are at three. Of course. Planners are not for checking well in advance to avoid situations like this. Planners are there to provide crucial information too late so the information does nothing but add dramatic irony.
When you were a doomed level of late in New York, you could just get in a cab. It rarely helped, mostly you would get stuck in traffic and end up being just as late as you would’ve been if you’d taken the train, but at least now you were out twenty bucks. Cabs were nice because it was nice to have a nuclear option. Like, I feel I can at least do something. Step it up. L.A., can we build a SkyClaw, an enormous version of those claws you see in glass-walled machines you try to win stuffed animals out of, to whisk people with poor time management skills and their vehicles to their destinations, swinging precariously above traffic and bullshit? We can? Thanks!
Back at our apartment building: There is someone out by the pool! This is a first since we’ve been here. It is sunny and warm outside so I guess it makes sense, but still: creepy.
Later, we have a meeting. Eric uses an awesome word during the meeting: Doctrinaire. I love this word. It makes me think of a Red Baron fighter-ace type figure who, instead of bombs, drops doctorates on people. Like, he didn’t liberate that French village, but he did make them all podiatrists.
Driving home, a woman in the car behind me is mad at someone and is yelling at them. It’s either somebody on speaker phone, a child in the backseat, or a goblin in her cupholder.
I’m enjoying being able to change the radio station from my steering wheel. This is part of the continuing saga of "DC Is Impressed By Things You Stopped Thinking Were Anything Less Than Standard Back When LFO Got Invited To Award Shows."
Back home again: More people in the pool. Different ones. I watch two guys have the beginnings of a race.
Expose me to enough car radio and I will eventually go home and buy every song ever recorded off of iTunes. Driving to dinner, we hit a real hot streak and hear such as songs as “Put That Woman First” by Jaheim (one of a million songs to sample “I Forgot To Be Your Lover,” but if you know what version it’s sampling let me know ‘cause I can’t find it) and a song called “Can’t Last A Day” by Teena Marie which, last time we were in L.A., I listened to Steve Harvey praise on his radio show for, no joke, twenty minutes. It is really good. You guys have to promise not to be mad when I become a Quiet Storm DJ.
In this neighborhood I see a street called Las Palmas. I am geeked out because this street was referenced in the Sifl & Olly song “Llama School.” (“Sifl & Olly” was a short-lived MTV sock puppet show that still lives inside of me, right next to my soul.) We eat at Loteria, a Mexican place recommended by our old friend Eric Appel. It’s delicious. Our waiter is lovably eccentric and looks like Leon Trotsky if he had been a Mexican waiter. At one point one guy at the table next to us says, “When I was 14 I ate all this acid on Valentine’s Day.”
We return to the Arclight to see “Moon.” There is a lot to recommend the Arclight, it is a really beautiful place to see a movie, but their assigned-seating system is kind of annoying if you are trying to sit next to your friends and you are all buying your tickets separately. You end up standing next to each other at kiosks, shouting back and forth, watching seats disappear. We go to guest services to see if they can seat us all together. They can. While there, I glimpse a handsome Taschen Orson Welles book at the gift shop and I mentally add it to my wedding gift registry. I am marrying myself this fall. (I like to think that through the enthusiasms revealed in this post, like Orson Welles/Sifl & Olly/R&B music, you could successfully triangulate my personality and re-create me if I ever get taken out.)
The ticket taker has a gauntlet made out of his watch and several different colors of pens. Upstairs at the Arclight smells like immolated Teddy Grahams.
So “Moon” is fucking great. If you like sci-fi or movies you should really see it. See it if you like good acting or robots or a story well told.
Downstairs after the movie, the storm of “Transformers 2” midnight screenings is gathering. People are trading their actual grandmothers for tickets to “Transformers 2.” A guy is wearing a “Spider-Man 3” shirt. He is a fan of the genre of sequels.
I have a meeting on Monday afternoon. I got a GPS last week but I haven’t taken it out of its packaging yet. I decide to install it before the meeting even though I sort of know my way there. I take a good long look at the directions after opening the packaging with a pair of kitchen scissors but then I neglect to bring the directions down to the garage with me. I make a couple critical putting-the-thing-together errors as I’m sitting in the front seat of my car in the darkened parking garage, and watch a nice plenty-of-time-to-get-there melt away as I fiddle with the various suction cups and adhesives. Finally it’s together and mounted on the windshield. I turn it on. It says it needs a clear view of open sky to start working. I guess in that way it’s a lot like an old ranch-hand.
Every day I spent not listening to “Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ” by Bruce Springsteen was a wasted day. Sometimes you are driving down a sunny street lined with palm trees underneath a perfectly blue sky and you have early Springsteen on your car stereo and it feels pretty good. In this moment, you feel less like Woody Allen in the L.A. scenes in “Annie Hall” and more like Diane Keaton in the L.A. scenes in “Annie Hall.” Like, blissed-out and carefree and almost certainly fucking Paul Simon.
After the meeting, I give my valet ticket to the guy, but my car never comes. Greg and I stand in front of the building for a long time. Greg asks the guy about my car. He assures Greg it’s coming right up. I keep looking at the corner the car is going to come around. Waiting for your car to come out of valet is like you’re picking yourself up from school: is that me? No, that’s not me. Dammit, me.
Thanks to Drew of Motion/Captured we get to go see “Transformers 2” in IMAX that night. The theater’s kind of far from our neighborhood and traffic is, you know, rush hour traffic, but we start out with that in mind and get there with a little time to spare and I’m proud of us. I am starving but there is a Rubio’s in this mall, across from the movie theater. Rubio’s was a good place to get a big cheap soda to bring into the movie theater with you when I was in high school. Its presence here bodes well for this being a movie-going experience. As in, an experience in which I see a movie.
Rubio’s is advertising something called the All-American Taco, which from the vinyl sticker on the door appears to be a hamburger patty inside a soft taco shell, with cheese and burger fixin’s. I don’t order it. I am standing waiting for my order when a middle-aged guy comes up and puts his tray down on the counter. He says to the two men behind the register, “Guys, is this what I ordered?” in a fatherly, disappointed tone which I can imagine him using to half-motivate a showroom full of furniture salesman. Apparently he has ordered the All-American Taco and he is not sure the item in front of him is the All-American Taco. One employee looks at it and says that that’s what it is. The man returns to his seat.
Settled into the movie theater, everyone, including me, is fooling around with their phone. Two minutes before the movie starts the remaining empty seats are filled in by kids and their families, I guess recruited from the mall outside. I am excited for IMAX because everything is better when it’s loud. No fooling.
The movie starts. It's very long. It contains the words “Merge the matrix with his spark,” which is how I’m going to refer from the sex act from now on.
It is kind of foggy when we drive home. We drive past lots of fancy office buildings that are empty and for sale.
The thing to do in Hollywood seems to be to drive your mom around in your Scion. Be a cute girl in your twenties and drive your mom around in your Scion and you will not have any problems.
Dan is going to buy a video game and Dominic is going with him and I elect to come too because I haven’t done much in the way of leaving the house on this particular day. We drive to a shopping center that contains both a GameStop and a Best Buy so that if they don’t have the game Dan wants at one place we can try the other place without having to get our parking validated again.
We pull into the shopping center’s built-in parking garage and the parking attendant, a short older woman, is super-friendly to us. She packs a crazy amount of genuine friendly into a very brief transaction. While we park I have a five-minute thought-party in my head about how nice it is when people are nice to you. Walking inside, we discuss our various strategies for remembering where it was you parked. They’re all variations on “write it down.”
GameStop is first. Initially they don’t have the game Dan wants, but he talks to the (also extremely friendly) guys behind the counter for several minutes and eventually they realize, wait, they do have this one copy. This is exciting. Dan continues talking shop with the dudes and I paw through remaindered PS2 games, looking for old forgotten movie tie-ins or games based on obscure sports. At one point one of the clerks is describing why he quit Fallout 3. He describes his saved game like this: “I’m in a house full of robots that shoot lasers. I ran out of bullets, I ran out of money. I have a broken leg and the dog is dead.” Sometimes the barely-out-of-his-teens clerk at GameStop will just say an entire science-fiction country song. You have to listen for it.
After Dan gets his game we go around the corner to eat lunch at a barbecue place. It’s very good. While writing this I realized I still have some left over in the fridge. You guys, I’m very excited.
We see a guy with a beard and a lady-friend enter the restaurant while we’re eating outside and somebody comments that he looks like Devin Faraci, a critic who runs a website named CHUD and gave “Mystery Team” a really great write-up. After lunch, I am standing in line for coffee and looking at Twitter on my phone and lo and behold, Devin mentions that he’s at that barbeque place. I go outside and tell Dan “that was him.” We debate whether or not we should go back and say hi, and then it is eventually decided that we should. As we’re walking back to the restaurant, we see that Devin is coming the other way, with his female friend. They are holding hands. In whispers we try and decide whether we should interrupt them. We eventually opt to just walk by and e-mail him later. You could really get an entire thesis out of this, about technology and its bringing-togetherness and its distancing, about the fact that it brought us so close and we ultimately bailed, choosing the safer electronic option. But your thesis would be wrong. Really we just didn’t want to be, like, cockblocks.
Someone in the comments yesterday (Hi, Sasha) asked if we always eat out or if that's like a "we just moved here" thing. The answer is, Donald cooks and is a very talented cook. Meggie cooks and is a very talented cook. I would very much like to be the kind of person who cooks, I have had every intention in the world of becoming the kind of person who cooks for the last four years or so, and even the kitchen in which to do so for the past two, and I realize that this means absolute dick next to being the kind of person who actually does cook. But just know that someday I will cook frequently and with verve, like my dad does and my step-mom does and like many of my friend do, and you will think I'm really cool and it will appeal to something primal in all of us that needs to feed and be fed, so if you could just go ahead and feel that way about me now because someday I'm going to do it, like, feel that way on credit, that would be great. If you don't want to, I understand. Anyway. It's not like we can't, we just haven't really settled into the sort of schedule here yet that permits a lot of family meals at reasonable times.
Drew McWeeny over at Motion/Captured linked this First 100 Days Of LA series in his morning round-up this morning. Thanks, Drew! And thank you for reading if you clicked over from there. I hope you will find something you like here, be it small and petty observation about a person I saw on the sidewalk, or a sudden meta-epiphany about leftovers.
The place we want to go for lunch isn’t open yet so we end up at a sushi place down the block from us. We sit out on the patio and we’re the only ones there and there are only the littlest flutters of movement inside. When the food comes we joke about the fish actually being small balls of lunch meat. Not a good meal.
After lunch we go to Guitar Center so Donald can get a mic stand and some other stuff. You pull in through a tunnel in the side of the building to get to the parking lot in the rear. A bulletin board in this tunnel is overgrown with fliers for bands.
Inside I am intimidated. I’m not buying anything so Dom and I are a waste of the air the sales associates use to ask us if we’re being helped. In the DJ section, an alien nest of stage lights and spinny things hangs from a grid on the ceiling, like the surreal section of a hardware store with all the ceiling fans and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, except this hardware store is in Ibiza.
There are rockabilly pompadours like, outta control. I’m having a hard time coming up for a unifying stereotype for everyone in Guitar Center, except to say that if you stood up on an array of speakers and yelled, “I need six or seven people who would look believable playing behind Kid Rock, and I need them NOW,” you would not have any problems.
Dom and I fuck around on keyboards and the employees ask us if we’re being helped in an increasingly patronizing fashion. If they just went ahead and asked us to leave and stop wasting their time I would not be offended.
I imagine the female folk singer we saw at CityWalk the night before walking these aisles, pricing PA’s. I take a look in the guitar section and is clear to me that Guitar Center is a good place to bring your long-suffering girlfriend who is always two bad months away from giving up on you and your stupid dream.
Outside in the parking lot, we are passed by two guys in sunglasses who I think are in a band called “The Texting Boys.” Also in the parking lot, a sunburnt man wearing military garb over a Superman t-shirt is holding up an expensive camera and taking pictures of the sun. He, like The Texting Boys, is wearing sunglasses. Everyone is always wearing sunglasses. For ease of use, I think I will stop describing people as “wearing sunglasses.” From now on, when I describe a person, imagine they’re wearing sunglasses. A bumper sticker on the back of an old car says “Drum Machines Have No Soul.”
Later, the tiny British guy who lives in the penthouse (who we happened to be in the elevator with last week as he gave his companion an earful of anti-this-building-and-all-Americans sentiment) is in the elevator with me and Dom. I briefly consider expressing to Dominic how excited I am for 4th of July, but I settle for “See you guys later” as I get off at my floor and Dom goes up to the other apartment on the fifth floor. By “you guys” I meant all of our friends who live in this building, but Dom tells me later that the British guy was very visibly confused by this, and thought I was talking to him as well. This makes me happy.
That night we are going to see “The Hangover” at the Arclight, a fancy movie theater in Hollywood. I am excited for both the movie and the theater. The streets are teeming and crazy on this Saturday night and driving over on the radio we hear an ad for something called “One Hundred And One Audition Secrets Dot Com.” I remember this because during the ad it’s sung, a capella, no fewer than eight times. Then the female announcer says, “You only live once. This might be your only chance to be famous.”
We have a little time before the movie so we go to eat at a Baja Fresh across from the theater. I realize I’ve left my notebook in Donald’s car. It’s several floors up in a parking garage and I’m running short of notebooks anyway, so I decide to order my food and then go over to the Borders next door and get more. Baja is closing, though, so I have to use a back entrance that takes me through concrete shopping-center catacombs, and I don’t think I can get back in that way so once I’ve bought the notebooks I have to get my friends to let me in through Baja’s locked front entrance much to the understandable annoyance of the employees. We’re pushing movie-time and we take our food across the street and I bolt a burrito down in something like four bites so I will spend the entirety of the movie feeling like I have a zeppelin’s worth of super-heated air in my chest, and the whole thing was a rushed mistake on my part.
For a place that is supposedly so relaxed I have spent most of my time here in a hurried on-point stance of “Aw, wait, what? Shit, we gotta go.” I don’t blame Los Angeles so much as I am new here and I suck at it. Not to mention I felt that way most of my time in New York, it just seemed to be a place that was more in tune with high-strung neurotics who don’t leave themselves enough time for anything. It’s an energy I tote with me everywhere. I could never have a retreat to a charming Tuscan villa to get my groove back like in a chick-lit novel: the dark-haired free-spirited widow who by all rights should be teaching me to relax and let go as we stomp grapes and fall in love would put me back on a plane to the States after just a few weeks, begging the airline employee to find room for me on the next flight out before she, (in Italian), “puts a fucking shotgun in (her) mouth, I swear to God.”
The movie is playing in the Cinerama Dome, a theater with an enormous curved screen that was built in the sixties and is now part of the Arclight. It is a no-fooling movie palace, complete with big velvet curtains that open and shut and the whole deal. It’s very very cool and it makes me wish we were seeing a big “event” movie where things get smashed. Some things get smashed in “The Hangover,” but it’s not the sole purpose of the movie. There are some UCB people in the movie and it is neat to see them Cinerama-sized and killing it.
On the drive home, a guy dressed as Jesus is walking Sunset, giving people the Peace sign. Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo” plays on the radio.
On Friday I eat lunch at a place called Souplantation that somebody recommended to me the other night after UCB. It’s essentially a big cafeteria, and there are lots of people eating alone, so I don’t feel strange sitting and reading my book. If you know a guy who likes eating his lunch alone while reading a book more than me…well, you just don’t.
Dom and Dan and I go to see “UP” (my second time, Dan’s second time, Dom’s first) and for some reason we are going to see it at Universal Citywalk and we are starting out in the early evening on a Friday so traffic is a parody of traffic. We are just stuck and the GPS starts despairing, showing us arrival times that are after the movie will start. “California Dreamin’” comes on the radio as we slow to a halt. Sometimes LA irony is pretty on the nose. We think maybe we can exchange our tickets for a later showtime and get some dinner or something. We play around with Dan’s new iPhone’s video functionality while all the cars poke along.
You can look out from where we park in the Citywalk parking garage and see endless mountain-and-cloud. The sun just set and everything’s purple. Inside the mall proper, a late-period (shitty) Smashing Pumpkins video looms over all of us on a giant video screen, Billy Corgan like Big Brother if everybody in “1984” went “Ah, somewhere inside I’ll always like you, Big Brother, because I loved you when I was 13, even though now it seems you’re a tremendous douche.”
We go inside the movie theater to exchange our tickets. I see a poster for a movie called “Aliens In The Attic” and the tagline lets me know it’s about a family called The Pearsons. I urge you to boycott this movie and any others using the bastardized “P-E-A” form of my last name, and save your money for films that use only the authentic “P-I-E-R-S-O-N” spelling. If you were greatly anticipating seeing “Aliens In The Attic,” you have my sympathies and I appreciate your sacrifice.
We go to dinner at Tony Roma’s. At the next table sit six very animated middle-aged people, two of whom are older Asian women who I guess don’t speak English, because a woman, who, in a movie of the evening would be played by Stockard Channing, is using big exaggerated mime gestures as she talks to them slowly about elders and congregations. Her pantomime is particularly huge for “baptism:” plugging her nose, throwing her head back, hard. She does this several times. Another woman has a Japanese-English dictionary. At a certain point the pantomime woman and an older black man with a weirdly oriented bald spot start dancing in their seats to “Boogie Shoes.”
Outside after dinner, we can hear a cover band on the upper level of the mall playing Heart, and then “You Can Call Me Al.” A dad takes a picture of a mom and their kid next to a parked cop car. A female folk singer is playing a guitar and singing into a little P.A. and pushing her CD in between songs. Parking security guards roam the lot on three-wheeled Segways with head-lamps, and I wish they were droids.
We walk back to the movie theater. Universal Citywalk was seemingly designed by a Universal Studios flush with Jurassic Park cash and holding in their hands a report from their research and development department assuring them it would be 1994 forever.
We get awesome seats and then an employee comes in and tells us they haven’t cleaned yet and ask us to wait outside. The rest of the audience starts to gather, mostly families with little kids. Two little Indian girls climb into the space where the garbage can would normally be if it weren’t inside with the employees cleaning the theater, and they stick their heads up through the square hole in the wooden cabinet where you throw your popcorn and soda away after the movie. They are two disembodied heads and seem to realize how amusing this should be to everyone, and it is to most of us, but they quit when they don’t get whatever reaction they wanted to get out of their mom.
I get a little upset during the previews thinking about how not only do people sometimes assume every CG movie is Pixar-made, but that there are probably studios who can’t wait, who actively try to make people confuse their ramshackle computer-generated efforts with Pixar’s. Then the short starts, and then the feature. Should go without saying but I love “UP” and everything it represents and I think it’s just about perfect. I cried at all the parts you cried at, ‘cause we’re both human.
There is a parking lot at Citywalk called Jurassic Parking, which gets me right where I live. We’re parked in the Curious George Lot. Dan points out that, with the exception of Jurassic Parking, when it came to naming their parking lots they just didn’t fucking try.
Something that still rules: calling “shotgun” when you’re in sight of the car. You have to be in sight of the car, right? Right. Those are the rules, and we play by them so civilization doesn’t just fly apart.
Thursday is spent mostly indoors working on movie stuff. On my daily walkabout I see a placard outside a spa that is advertising the spa's body-detoxification properties through a four-panel progression of images showing a pair of feet in a foot-bath. The foot-bath gets progressively more mucked up with what I guess are toxins leaving the body, until in the fourth panel the feet are in a brown stew of their own filth. It is really unpleasant. I think I will save my money for the second-floor tango-and-ballroom-dancing school that is on that same block. For lunch, Donald makes us Chilean sea bass. It is a better lunch than we are used to. I swallow a tiny bone.
After quitting time it's pretty late and people have different plans and it's tough to get leaving-the-house momentum so we end up ordering pizza and watching documentaries on Netflix's streaming XBOX thing, which is very very cool. There's a Don Rickles documentary, "Mr. Warmth," the lesson of which is that Don Rickles is the fucking man and has been for a very long time, and that show business used to be different, and everybody in show business reluctantly admits that Vegas was way more fun when it was run by the mob. Bob Newhart constantly referring to the mafia as "the boys" and then cursing Howard Hughes for corporatizing the Strip is insanely endearing.
Then there's "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room," the lesson of which is, you can zoom out and reduce the everyday things people need to shares you can buy and sell and for a few years that will make you and all your frat-boy bodies feel like masters of the universe watching the numbers whiz around and talking into a headset, but eventually you will destroy yourself. Which would be fine if you didn't destroy other people in the process. Also: a little while before collapsing, Enron made a huge splash by announcing they were going to go into broadband video-on-demand, the very technology we were watching the movie on (they couldn't get the tech together at the time). Also: a little while before collapsing, Enron was talking about creating a market for buying and selling the weather. This is one of those things that sounds ridiculous but then you say "I'm sure some economist smarter than I am could explain to me how it works," but they probably couldn't. That's how they got away with it all those years: everybody shrugged and said "they must have it figured out," even the people you and I assume have it figured out when we don't. Most of this was news to me: during the Enron crisis I was mostly trying to get cast in school plays, and the intricacies of mark-to-market profit reporting were not going to help me land the role of "Mayor" in Bye Bye Birdie. A fourth-rate impression of Pappy O'Daniel from "O, Brother, Where Art Thou?" however, was.
Massive failures are fascinating.
There is a shopping center near us whose façade is made of interlocking blue-and-white glass panels. At some point yesterday I notice that part of this façade is bubbling in the wind. Then I realize that some of the building is that pattern of glass but some of is just a tarp made to look like that pattern.
The area around our building seems like it’s going to be the epicenter of the coming age war. On Wednesday afternoon I see no less than two fights between young men and very old men. Nothing physical, but lots of screaming, and in one case, honking from passing motorists as a young guy has his enormous pickup half-hanging-out into traffic as he’s insisting that an old guy in Blue Blockers move his boat of a car from where it’s parallel parked, or something. When The Age War comes you will know what side of the casino buffet table you’ve been standing on. I am not looking forward to it.
I am pulling out of the Baja Fresh parking lot and I think, I can’t remember what they’re called, those little concrete parking dividers, the things your front wheels sometimes bump up against to let you know, “Hey, stop,” but I can’t remember if there is one in the parking space I’m parked in. If there isn’t, it would be an easy thing to just pull forward and into the lane that will take me out of here. I will probably save a good eight seconds, and I have nowhere to be, so shaving that time off is critical. I decide not to open my car door and look. I decide to just go. It turns out there is one of those concrete divider things that I can’t remember what they’re called, and it makes a horrible noise when my car mounts it. I reverse and go out the way I always should have. I’m trying to turn on to a very busy street and no one is letting me in until an old lady slows down and waves me in. An olive branch from the elderly to the youth. Perhaps we have averted the eruption of age-ist violence for another day. Back in the parking garage at our building, I inspect the front part of my car. I got away clean.
Dom and I are in the car on the way to see Gethard and Joe Mande’s shows at UCB when we see, stopped next to us at a stoplight, a fully-done-up Ed Hardy vehicle. An old grey open-top Ford truck, with a thrumming engine and a pit bull in the driver’s seat. Behind the wheel is a guy dressed mostly in pink and purple scarves. Skeletons and roses chase each other around his car, in between URLS in gothic lettering.
I look in the passenger-side mirror when we’re on Sunset and hey: The sunset! And a corridor of palm trees. And lots of neon. I look at this for as long as possible. Near the In-N-Out, two guys in their fifties stare up at a parking sign outside of their Honda Element for a good long while and then approach the parking meter like it’s alien technology. When the war comes they could go either way, old or young, but the old will probably win them to their side with promises of abolishing technology altogether, both the confusing kind and the kind that are thermostats that go below 80.
I love the radio. Something that hasn’t gotten any less fun since high school: singing the real dirty lyrics over the clean radio edit of a song.
Every time you are driving here you see somebody pull the most egregious maneuver you’ve ever seen, and they are punished by getting where they need to be before you. I try to make myself feel better by assuring myself that those drivers probably take “The Pick-Up Artist” literally. Then I think, like the traffic maneuvers, that shit probably actually works for them. Then I think of the Ed Hardy vehicle and I toy with the idea of quitting society.
The Scientology Celebrity Center is across from UCB, a big Cinderella castle where all the windows are always lit and disconcertingly easy to see into. Parking around UCB is a bitch and I think the Scientologists should offer free parking to the whole neighborhood. They could flier my car. They could test my car’s stress. After my car had parked there enough times they could tell my car what kind of alien car it had been in a past life. I would not care.
Standing outside of UCB after the show, I see the LA equivalents of six or seven people I know from New York and I wonder when I will stop seeing people’s LA equivalents. When I go back to New York and see LA people’s New York equivalents, then I will know I have arrived.
At the valet waiting for Donald’s car to come around, an old Benz pulls up and an attractive woman leaps out. Another woman runs up from the outdoor seating area of a nearby restaurant and kisses her, hard. This is great. I have a (pretty unconventional I realize) pro-public-displays-of-affection-by-smokin’-lesbians policy, and West Hollywood will be receiving a positive write-up in my guidebook on the subject.
Later, we are up in Dan, Meggie and Donald’s apartment. The TV is on. Their TV is mounted on the wall above the fireplace at an awkward angle, which is bad for just watching but good for standing next to and craning your neck to look at like you’re watching TV on “The West Wing.” I feel like we should all have rolls of white paper in our hands and be clucking our tongues as we watch troubling world events unfold, until one of us says the pithy or grave (or both) thing that’s going to trigger the title sequence.
Much later, Dan and I are still up, and the TV’s still on, on mute. The super-early-morning local news begins, and across the bottom of the screen is a non-stop crawl with the names of freeways and whether or not there are any accidents on them. At this hour pretty much every freeway is followed by the words “No Accidents” but I am kind of overwhelmed by the number of freeways. I grew up in Phoenix and I was pretty sure we invented the overpass, the interchange, the loop, but I guess not. I guess I was in the minors all those years and I’ve just been called up to the big leagues, the big leagues of sitting there as everything crawls along at rush hour, fucking with the radio, checking your phone.
On Tuesday it’s finally sunny. I can see apartment complex’s pool through a window by the elevators and it looks how it’s supposed, all day-glo blue. A swimming pool on a cloudy day is under the mistaken impression that you need more gray in your life. Walking outside, the sun is hot on the back of my jeans.
It might be because of our proximity to a hospital but there seem to be a high concentration of crazy people muttering to themselves in the blocks around our building. For instance, a man with salt-and-pepper stubble walking down La Cienega, his arm in a sling, monologuing to himself, gesturing wildly with his free arm. Also in the blocks around our building: A house whose 50’s-style design embellishments include what looks like three triangular Muppet noses. A Hummer limo with a for-sale sign in the window along with the words “A TOUCH OF ELEGANCE” painted on the glass.
Dom is nice enough to drive me back to the dealership so I can pick up my freshly LoJacked car. We make the cunning game-time decision to start off right in the heart of rush hour, so it takes much longer than it should. On the way: there is unauthorized Lakers championship-wear hanging from some hangars on a chain-link fence, but no one is there to sell it, it’s just there unattended. Two Rastafarian guys have their truck parked diagonally across a sidewalk with its hood popped. In the fenced-in tunnel of a pedestrian overpass, nine or ten black schoolkids, all boys, stand in two rows. One kid dances for a couple of seconds, then passes to the kid behind him. Another kid films the whole thing on a small gadget, a camera or a cellphone.
I fiddle with the radio. There is something that pulls you up about stopping on a song that sounds good and then the vocals come in and it’s in Spanish. You feel an unearned level of open-mindedness. Is there a kind of white hipster that listens exclusively to Spanish radio? Because I might become that guy.
A Latino guy is selling flowers on the median. If I was the head of a selling-flowers-on-a-median operation, I would provide kickbacks to exotic dancers, flirtatious secretaries, and mistresses, with a not-very-specific instructions to, y’know, sex it up. Just keep doing things that make men make mistakes that will make their wives mad at them and make them more likely to buy flowers from a guy on the median. It would be in my interest to keep an air of jealous suspicion hovering over the city. The making-up process would inevitably cause men to put off leaving their wives for their mistresses (if they were ever really going to) which would piss the mistresses off in turn, causing the men to have to buy them some median-flowers as well, and I would get it coming and going.
At the dealership, I get my keys from the front desk and get in my car. The apple core I left in my cup-holder the day before is still there. It would be a treat for a cartoon rat in a junkyard, second only to a boot with a hole in the toes.
I bought “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” on CD at Best Buy when I bought my GPS and it hasn’t left my car’s CD player since. I have a tape deck and I could easily get one of those iPod tape-adapter things that are so much more reliable than FM adapters, but having a CD player in my car is novel to me even though you and everyone you know got over it in 1998. Driving back from the dealership Bruce Springsteen sings about a girl who now has a house up in Fairview and a few minutes later I drive by Fairview Boulevard. I like to think rippling Springsteen-magic is terraforming L.A. around me, and I invite it to keep doing that. Hey everyone: soon I will be winning your girlfriend from you in a car race.
There is something voyeuristic about looking in your rearview mirror at someone in the car behind you at a stoplight. The girl behind me in the red Ford Focus is having neck problems. She is behind me in the center lane for most of the drive home and I have to remind myself that this doesn’t necessarily mean she likes me: La Cienega is a very popular street that takes lots of people lots of places.
People’s heads bobbing in unison when the bus they’re on brakes makes it look like they’re rocking to the music that’s playing inside your car.
In our building, there seems to be a tradition of throwing your junk mail in a big pile on a ledge in the mail room, so I throw our junk mail with the rest. Considering how everybody in this building seems to feel about us, I expect to walk by later and see that someone has segregated our junk mail from everyone else’s, in a little lonely pile off to the side of the bigger one.
That night we try extra-hard to be quiet after 10 PM so as avoid getting further noise complaints. Being told to Keep It Down You Kids is the kind of thing that makes you realize, holy shit, there really are squares. This doesn’t trouble me much because if Springsteen keeps manipulating my time here through sheer force of song, soon I will have my revenge on all these squares by meeting their daughter in a field and putting ideas in her head about leaving this last-chance burg and showing her what it means to be alive and stuff.
I have an appointment at noon on Monday to drop my car off where I bought it so it can have a LoJack system installed. I realized on the way home from buying my car last week that LoJack is a play on the word hijack. Realizing this felt like an epiphany, it was that sudden and joyous. The way is clear, the world makes sense.
I wake up late for my appointment and call the place and apologize and the lady on the phone says “No problem, come down anyway.” I follow Dominic to the car dealership, he is going to drive me back after we drop off the car. We pass the place where I saw a man sitting cross-legged painting a very rough, jagged wall last week with a paint roller. It’s finished now, and it has lots of stripes of colors. I am proud of him, though I still think he’s got to find a less depressing way of working. We also see a car with the license plate reading “BNL.” I wonder in earnest if it’s driven by a member of the Barenaked Ladies.
When I get out of the car in the service bay, an employee comes up and asks my name. I tell her. She says “come with me” very gravely. Once we’re inside and she’s behind her computer, she tells me that the LoJack guys have left for the day. She tried to call me, she says, but it was the wrong phone number. I tell her I called and they told me to come down anyway. She says she can call the LoJack guys and see if they can come back. It is pretty clear at this point that the LoJack guys are a band of misfits and outlaws who blow in and out, like the wind but twice as ornery. She calls their dispatcher. It’s a no-go. Telling the LoJack guys to come back after they’ve left for the day is like telling the coyote not to howl. I leave my car there so they can take care of it when they come back in the morning, installing the anti-theft system through a punishing fog of rye hangover, working their tongues in and out of the spaces where teeth used to be before they lost ‘em in last night’s juke-joint brawl. As we are leaving the dealership, I remember I did a dumb thing and left the core of the apple I was eating in one of my cupholders. Then I content myself in the knowledge that one of the LoJack guys will ferment it into jug-wine.
Later, Dominic and I go to see The Smokes at UCB LA, a team featuring lots of our New York friends. On the way, we hear a McDonald’s radio commercial where a guy brags to his friend about the time he “beat Marcelle at that video guitar game.” This radio commercial appeals to Dom and I because we are young people and that is how young people talk. I see an ad on the back of a city bus reading “FIREWORKS: Play it safe. Go to a public show.” I think of how if you make your living doing big public fireworks displays, Black Cats and things you buy on the side of the road are kind of like your BitTorrent or your Chinatown DVD bootleggers. Except they aren’t, because the mayor is never going to say “We’re not gonna do the big show down at the river this year, everybody’s fine with shooting off bottle rockets in the alley behind their house.”
There are neat old-fashioned music shops on Vine with painted signs and instruments in the window. There’s a sun-bleached, negativized Rat Pack mural outside the Capitol Records building. We find parking very easily outside of UCB, a small win.
After the show (which is funny except for the two minutes when we are distracted by an enormous spider lowing itself from the ceiling by a single web-strand, teetering precariously over the head of an audience member in the front row who has no idea this is happening, and then climbing back up to the ceiling as quick as it came) we hang out at Bird’s, a restaurant and bar next to the theater where everybody pretty much hangs out. It is cool to catch up with everybody. We get a thousand restaurant recommendations, and a thousand opinions on good places to live. The first is helpful because we like food. The second is helpful because everyone in our building hates us because we work at night, in our apartment, and that work often devolves into us shouting bits to make ourselves laugh.
While we’re eating a table outside, I watch an older black lady smoking at a table outside the coffee shop next to the restaurant, staring off into the distance, her head cocked at an angle that makes it look like she’s always about to sing. A hipster guy walks by with his girlfriend, and he has a cane around his neck like he is pulling himself off of a vaudeville stage. It is pretty clear he does not need the cane to walk, it’s just a fashion choice. This is kind of a culture shock, because where I’m from, you do not carry a cane as a fashion choice unless you are a count or an ultra-flamboyant urban comedian.
I am very grateful for my UCB friends. It is so cool to see everybody, hear their collective CA wisdom, and to meet new people. It feels a lot like the first week of school, where you don’t know who will be who to you, so you had pretty much better leave your door open like the too-friendly RA recommends.
It’s pleasant outside walking to Dom’s car after dinner. A woman in a white SUV shouts at us: are you guys leaving? We shout back that we are. She follows us but someone else pulls out of their spot before we can get to our car, so she takes that spot. I am weirdly bummed out by this. It seemed like an opportunity to participate in the social fabric. Also I guess I thought maybe she would reward us for our thoughtful departure by shouting her phone number after us or something.
The sun is setting and I decide I have to drive somewhere for the practice, so I go to a Ralph’s, a different one than we went to the other night. Parking isn’t as nightmarish because there’s an underground parking garage and the interior’s a lot less cramped. I have a really hard time getting one of those plastic tear-off fruit-bags open in the produce section, and I feel very awkward and certain everyone in the store will know me as an impostor, because I’m from New York and I never really shopped for groceries in a grocery store that much when I lived there. It would be nice to say I went from the butcher to the baker to the cheese shop like a well-fed-yet-lithe European person, but I actually just mostly ate street food and drank beers from the bodega for six years. The guy behind me in line for self-check-out drops a bottled beer from a six-pack in his shopping basket and it shatters, dousing the guy behind him’s sandaled foot in whatever kind of beer has a tortoise on the label.
I get a charge from seeing my car in the parking lot and thinking “that’s my car!” The last time I regularly drove I drove a 1983 Ford F-150 so in terms of handling, driving this car is like driving a modern car after only ever driving a car-shaped rock formation. What you no doubt take for granted if you drive, like brakes that work, or side-view mirrors that don’t vibrate themselves down into an un-usable angle after you’ve driven a few blocks, are new to me. It is fresh and novel to be small.
We drive around looking for a place for dinner. On Sunset, a big busy steak restaurant/sports bar has nine or ten plasma screen TVs mounted on its exterior, and all of them are playing a promotional reel for the band Three Doors Down. Right next to the place we end up eating there has been a drunk-driving accident clusterfuck, and a guy is being put into a Sheriff’s Dept. car in handcuffs. The symbol of the city of West Hollywood on the side of the Sheriff’s vehicle looks like a rainbow Periodic Table Of Elements.
Dan is iPhone-researching places as we drive by them. It’s a little like being psychic, if all your psychic gift ever told you about anything was “Mediocre Food, Great People-watching!” A lot of places are closed. We end up at a kind-of fancy place Donald and Dan had been to before. There’s a live jazz combo of older guys with ponytails who, if we saw them on the street and I told you they were Steely Dan, you would believe me. Fabio turns around when some girls standing near the jazz combo start dancing and squealing. Fabio is at this restaurant.
Everybody else has ordered a steak and I ordered fish, which means that when our waiter comes by with a wooden cigar box and opens it up and presents us all with intimidating knives, I’m not allowed to have one. If there would have been an asterisk next to the steak dishes on the menu and if when I had looked down the page to see what the asterisk meant it had said “*- Comes With Cool Fuck-Off Knife From Classy Wooden Cigar Box,” I would have ordered steak.
The jazz combo finishes their set and the restaurant's music comes up, and it’s all amazing. Selections include “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz and “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross. The songs we don’t know, Donald uses an iPhone app that can identify songs. I think iPhones are enhancing our lives, but if you told me it was the other way around and we were accessories that enhance the lives of tiny immobile capsule-beings called iPhones by carrying them around everywhere and helping them gather information, I would not be surprised.
After dinner, there is valet confusion. This restaurant’s valet has closed down and we are told by a sign we can get our car from another valet down in the parking garage. We go down into the too-well-lit-for-a-parking-garage parking garage and the guy there tells us we have to get our car upstairs. We tell him there’s no one there. He tells us to wait. While we do so, a flock of drunk girls dressed for a night out on Mars pours out of the elevator, and along with their male companions, they walk among and basically through us as we stand there, like we’re ghosts, or worse, people who have never been in a teen drama on The CW, on their way to their various luxury vehicles. As he passes us, one of the guys, who looks like either an extra from “Hook” or what your mom would get you when you told her you absolutely had to have a Jonas Brother and she would insist this was just as good and you would say Mom, you just don’t get it, it’s not the same, this guy gives us the dismissive up-and-down. I am overwhelmed by the urge to say one of my insults to him, probably the Hook one because it’s more concise, and then when he turns around wanting to fight me, yell “Keep walkin’, ese, you don’t want it like I got it.” This phrase appears fully formed in my head out of nowhere.
Later we go to a birthday party, and see lots of UCB LA-transplant friends. We are there at precisely last call, and we catch up with our friends in the parking lot while a jovial Korean bar employee keeps saying, “Let’s just go around the corner! We can be as loud as we want over there!” like he is going to come with us and participate in our conversations.
On the drive home we listen to a radio station that is playing only doo-wop and Phil Spector songs. It is music that pretty much demands you be driving fast through a lot of neon at the end of an evening, and we are, so it works out.
I am trying to think of a classier way to say this but the most succinct and accurate way I can think to put it is THE WEATHER SUXX. It has been completely overcast every day since we’ve been here. The nice weather is supposed to be a consolation prize for the place’s other headaches and right now there is no consolation prize.
A couple of guys in their fifties board the elevator in our lobby ahead of us. One of them is diminutive and British with spiky blonde hair. “This is the worst fucking place I’ve ever lived,” he says to his friend about the building. “It’s the fucking people.” He says America at least once with total disdain. His friend says, well, yes, but he choses to live here. In this tone and accent, you do not want the British guy to be shitting on your building and country. You want him to be refusing to go on stage at Live Aid. The unpleasantness is exacerbated by the elevator being lined with smelly moving blankets.
At the Starbucks a few blocks from our place: a rough-looking dude works on a full desktop computer with no cover, so its guts and inner workings are exposed there on the table. He uses his right knee as a mousepad. It reminds me of the Improv Everywhere Mobile Desktop mission, featuring Mystery Team’s Aubrey Plaza and Neil Casey. Also in Starbucks: a guy who looks like a roided-out Frankie Valli who looks like he is Frankie Valli's current age. He was here yesterday.
A meeting ends in a flurry of business cards. Eric says on Sunset Boulevard there used to be a business-card vending machine where you could get them made up if you didn’t have them. He remembers it being inside a car wash.
Walking near our apartment I see a pretty brown-haired girl pruning some flowers that are overhanging her balcony after watering them with a large water bottle with the label torn off.
We got asked to present an award at The Campus Movie Festival. The ceremony is being held on the Paramount lot, and before the event, we’re sitting in the green room around a U-shaped conference room table studded with microphones, tiny black buttons in the middle of the table. A woman is telling me about the building she lives in near here, an apartment building Paramount had built for starlets they had under contract in the Golden Age of the studio system. She describes all the art-deco amenities. I ask her if there are any starlet ghosts. She says no, but the top floor of the building has a “weird energy.” She says she loves her place but recommends driving around in a three-block radius of any place you plan on moving into in Los Angeles, because if she’d done that she never would have moved there, it’s kind of a bad neighborhood. Gang members from a gang called MS-13 tag her building at night.
The Campus Movie Festival is kind of a neat thing and we are probably in no way famous enough to be presenters (Some of the other presenters include James Cromwell and Patton Oswalt, who we listened to religiously on the drive out here.) But it’s a neat honor.
In the bathroom at Paramount there are plaques above the urinals with a blurb about how much water the technically advanced urinals save in a year. The plaque above the urinal I’m using is also perfectly positioned to reflect my penis back to me. I wonder if it’s just me, if I’m exactly the right proportions to make this the case, or if it’s like this for every man, there’s some sort of Golden Ratio of plaque and eyes and man-business. If I were a Greek philosopher, I would delegate this quandary to my intern.
After the ceremony, we drive back to our place through Hollywood on a Friday night. It is fucking insane, a whirling neon traffic nightmare. People are making mid-busy-street U-turns just for the entertainment value. We make the mistake of pulling into the In-N-Out parking lot, which is so slammed I’m almost sure that Jesus and Buddha are inside, having a freewheeling roundtable discussion on contentment, enlightenment, and what happens at the end of LOST. Then we drive home and all around us it’s like “American Graffiti” if every character in “American Graffiti” were named Nicole and they were all on pills and believed everyone was trying to fuck them all the time, because you know what, they were.
In high school my most-read website was Ain't It Cool News and my favorite critic on that website was a guy who went by the handle Moriarty. Now said guy, Drew McWeeny, runs an excellent movie blog called Motion Captured over at HitFix. He asked DERRICK to write a little thing about a summer movie we love. We chose "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" You can read it here (we're towards the bottom).
“It takes a couple of years to get used to,” says Eric who we have a meeting with our second morning here. “You’ll hate it for a long time.” When we get back to the car, Dan has gotten a parking ticket. Later, we realize someone or something has broken his driver's side mirror.
I have seen a lot of very L.A. things since I have been here but the most L.A. thing I have seen is a community board at Starbucks covered, absolutely covered, in inkjet-printed fliers for a Shawn Mullins show. Shawn Mullins had a hit in the late 90’s called “Rockabye.” If you don’t remember it, clearly you weren’t white and boring in the late 90’s.
While walking to that Starbucks, I look in a Laundromat window and see a blue mesh top hanging with some other laundry that has a picture of Drew Carey ironed on to it. Meggie and Dominic note that it is probably what someone wore to the Price Is Right. And now they are having it professionally cleaned.
I was dreading getting a car but by now I am resigned to it and want to get it over with. Dan is nice enough to drive me to the used car place, and Meggie comes along because she’s also looking for a car. On the way there, we see kids from a day camp converging on a city park to have a color war, with flags and face-paint and t-shirts all in their team’s color. A few blocks later, a bald man sits cross-legged on some gravel painting a low wall with a rough and uneven surface with a paint roller, which seems like the worst tool to paint a rough, uneven wall with. The whole thing looks like an existential punishment. There’s a dog sitting next to him.
Dan is a great guy to bring with you when you are buying a car because he will ask a thousand questions you never thought of and loves the sport of it. The slick used-car superstore has a No-Haggle Policy which, as we learn, is hard and fast, and kind of takes the wind out of Dan’s haggling sails, but he is still very helpful as he keeps me from financing the car through a seventy-year payment structure or cheaping out on things like a windshield or doors.
Every car at this place has a history, and the straightforward salesman shows me the car I’m looking at’s history. Apparently cars can have gone through a lot. This car for instance, was never on the Grey Market. I imagine my car begging on the corner in a teeming slum and then bringing its earnings back to a cruel, abusive stationwagon with busted taillights. I am happy it did not go through that. When you are buying a used car you are buying all its ghosts and traumas and if the record is to be believed my car had few to none, which is good.
When it is time to make the down payment, I realize I don’t have my checkbook. It is 2009 and I am twenty-four years old and we don’t typically have our checkbooks on us, right? Still, it was dumb of me. Meggie drives me to the nearest Chase so I can get money. It is a Washinton Mutual that recently became a Chase when WaMu closed down. The bank has airlocks and metal detectors you have to pass through but once inside it’s a too-cool-for-school open-plan bank where, instead of windows, all the tellers stand at little islands that are in a large circle, and you go up to them, and while you’re conducting your business you feel bad that they have to stand their all day in a setting that, for all its new-agey pleasantness, is still a bank.
As a money machine in the wall we have gone up to after a half an hour of waiting for the teller to get through to someone at Chase and verify that I am who I say I am because this bank has not fully converted from a WaMu to a Chase is spitting out a large sum of my money in very small denominations, and we are counting it like the teller said we should, I realize too late what an actual no-fooling adult would have realized in the first place which is, I should’ve just gotten a cashier’s check. Meggie puts the envelope full of down payment in her purse and we walk very fast to her car.
Several times throughout the day I have to give an old New York address and show someone my Arizona driver’s license and then give them my new L.A. address. No one thinks it’s normal. I am a national man of mystery.
Driving back from the bank, we see seagulls perched on a dumpster outside a restaurant called Pollo Campero. Oh, right, there’s an ocean here.
At the dealership, a nice lady counts my small bills, muttering numbers in Spanish as she does so. A nice man named Jose has me sign all the paperwork I need to sign after my down payment is processed. There are no fewer than ten thousand forms. I never stop signing things. I am still signing them as we speak. Someday when I have a kid, and I have to sign things before leaving the hospital with that kid, and I have to sign fewer forms than I did to purchase a used car, I will break my glowing wife’s maternal reverie to make an observation to the effect of how crazy that is, that it is more forms for one thing than for the other.
Finally the process is over and though it was long and slow it was in no way the head-splitting life-rape I feared it might be. Having Dan and Meggie there was very comforting and helpful. It is late enough to be getting purple outside and I follow Dan and Meggie home playing Disc Two of The Story Of The Clash. The first song I play in my new car is “White Man (In Hammersmith Palais.)” I feel adult and accomplished. I have a 2003 Jetta, the same car that your girl cousin who’s in high school has.
Donald got a car too, and at dinner that night at a restaurant that serves only garlic-derived things all we can talk about is cars, all of us, at length. Pantywaisted New Yorkers who a week ago could not have given a shit about cars except as things to shout “I’M WALKIN’ HERE” at, now we look at and judge and envy these things we never noticed before. It’s like we went through adolescence, an adolescence where instead of starting to notice girls, we started noticing cars.
My experience of L.A. up until moving here has always been one of your days just getting eaten alive by meetings and driving and waiting at places, realizing you haven’t eaten all day and being starving and punchy and impatient and exhausted. It might get different as we live here more and sort of stretch out, but it hasn’t been any different than that yet. There’s a phrase “The work will fill the time,” except in this case “the work” isn’t always actual work: it’s often just driving or sitting or waiting or lingering because you think you might need to talk to someone when it turns out later they left already.
On our way out of the garlic restaurant, there are three people in front of the hostess’ stand, just standing there completely still, smiling off in some direction, a corner we can’t see around. We stop, naturally, because it looks like they’re having their picture taken. They just stand there. We assume there’s someone with a camera around that corner but there’s no flash and they don’t move or speak. They weren’t here before. They aren’t statues. Right? Finally a flash goes off. One of the women moves and speaks, apologizing for how hard her camera is to work. A waiter comes around the corner with the camera and hands it to the woman. I am a little disappointed it wasn’t some prank, getting us to just stand there, caught in this subconscious force-field of someone’s-taking-a-picture.
The valet brings my new (used) never-Gray-Marketed car around. Everyone gets in and while we’re waiting to turn out of the parking lot I ask who sings the song that’s playing. (It’s “London Calling.”) Nobody knows. Meggie tells me that’s a dad question to ask. I make my first Los Angeles left turn and drive us all home.
The evening of our first night in LA Dan and Dominic and I are standing on the balcony drinking beer and we watch a cab pull up in front of the apartment building across the street from us and five dudes who look like they are in a band that is both heavily influenced by The Killers and not very good get out and before they can get inside the building a car full of dressed-up girls pulls up and shouts to one of the guys asking where they can park. Then a truck that you more typically park in front of your electronics store when you guys are having a sale on stereos than you, say, drive around pulls up, makes a screeching turn, then stops, and reverses all the way down our street, parallel parking in between two other trucks, tapping both in the process. One of the guys in the theoretical Killers-derived band runs up and high-fives the driver of the monster truck. Then they all go inside.
A few minutes later a guy and two girls who look like they were at the same party in the same liquor commercial as all the other people walk up to the apartment building across the street, but not before one of the girls insists that the guy push her in a shopping cart they found on the corner the entire seven feet to the apartment building’s front door. They are buzzing in and while they are waiting to be admitted they hear us doing running commentary about them and one of the girls turns and waves and invites us, in that proto-sarcastic dumb-girl-in-high-school way, to come party with them. We decline. The guy turns and asks me what my t-shirt says. I repeat his question back to him until they are buzzed into the building. This crowd were the only people we saw on our street in the two hours we were standing on the balcony. Our street has many lanes and they were all very far away from us the entire time.
When I wake up the next morning I realize there are exactly one hundred percent more mirrors in my room than there were in my room in my old apartment. Actually, that’s impossible: one hundred percent of zero is zero, and there are shit-tons of mirrors in my new room.
There are lots of ways to approach moving in. This particular first day of moving in, I seem to be taking the approach of just living, and in the course of living, anything you reach out for and it isn’t there, it becomes an item on a to-do list. You either have to unpack it or buy it.
We all shipped a ton of stuff from New York, and we receive word that our packages are downstairs. Packing my apartment had been an ordeal in which I was initially proud of myself for packing everything I owned and wanted to take with me into five boxes and one poster tube, then realized, one and a half blocks into carrying the first big box to the post office, that I had fucked up major. I ended up catching a car-service car back to my apartment with my impossibly heavy box and re-doing the entire thing. Eventually I would take eleven manageable boxes and one poster tube to Fed Ex.
This more sensible packaging strategy is vindicated when I get down to the laundry room and all eleven boxes are there, all of them the exact same size and shape, none of them damaged. I am happy to see them and proud of them for making it. My men!
At a certain point the building manager and I end up in the same hallway going the same direction and we make small talk. She goes into the laundry room before me and opens the door with the tiny black digital key every door in the building accepts. All of our keys are like this. They look sort of like tiny black robot penises. I think of how much of her day is spent putting the tiny black robot penis into things, waiting for the light to turn green, and then opening them, then withdrawing the tiny black robot penis.
I set the clock radio that came furnished in my bedroom. It’s kind of like staring in somebody’s face knowing for a fact that someday I will stare into that face with absolute hatred, an eventual enemy. The interface on top of the clock radio is laid out all in Comic Sans. This is an enemy I do not respect.
We eat lunch at a place a couple blocks from our apartment that Dan found highly recommended online called The Chicken Lady. The old guy serving us kind of never leaves us alone, giving us pieces of paper showing which shows and movies the place has catered for, and asking, a little taken aback, how we found the place. Dan says online. The guy is kind of astonished. “What did you type in?” he asks. The food comes out on paper plates and it’s really incredible and it sort of redeems all his pestering. Later, The Chicken Lady comes out on a walker (she just had surgery) and introduces herself personally. Both she and her restaurant are charming and great. We leave psyched on our first LA lunch.
Later, putting clothes in drawers, I find a jewelry case containing a pearl necklace. Later, in the movie about how I became a drag queen, this will be the scene you scoff at as being too mystical and convenient, but it really happened.
We go to Bed Bath And Beyond. It is a miserably laid out store. Waiting in line to check out, I look up on the wall and see a whole series of framed pictures for sale, almost all of which are by an artist called Michael Godard. I know they’re by Michael Godard because his name is printed in big letters beneath all the images. Michael Godard’s main themes appear to be poker tables that have martinis on them, and martinis with olives that have not only come to life but have red-high-heeled lady-gams on them. These subjects are interspersed liberally with flaming skulls and dice. All the paintings have titles like, but not exactly like, “Rollin’ Them Bones,” printed underneath Michael Godard’s name.
While waiting with tons of merchandise for Dan to bring the car around we hear a frantic rustling in the drop ceiling above our heads. We decide it is a squirrel wrestling a Sham Wow.
After Bed Bath & Beyond, we go to a grocery store in Beverly Hills. The parking lot of the grocery store, and the store itself, is kind of a great microcosm of L.A., or this part of it, anyway: because it is such a spread-out car culture you expect everything will be larger and wider to accommodate that, but it often isn’t: a lot of it is still strangely cramped.
I am tired, hungry and punchy by this time, but there is still nothing more fun than walking through a supermarket, flipping an item in one hand, tossing it up, catching it, mouthing the words to the song playing over the loudspeaker. It is a throwback to my bagboy days.
In front of me at the checkout, a guy in a purple button-down shirt with epaulets and his buddy are debating the best way to make Jager bombs with the cashier. They are buying Jagermeister and Monster Energy Drink. The clerk is telling them to buy Red Bull. One of their girlfriends gets involved in the discussion. I am ready to eat dinner.
Later, we drink mojitos in a cavernous restaurant a few blocks from our house. Except for Meggie, who is driving.
We pull out of my cul-de-sac and I start dicking around with the car radio. I drove a 1983 Ford F-150 in high school that just had AM-FM radio, and the radio had knobs. I got really good at no-look changing between 91.5 (KJZZ, the local NPR affiliate) and 92.3 (Power 92, the hip-hop station.) A cursory tour reveals that KJZZ is still going strong but over on Power 92, somebody who sounds, y’know, white, is talking about how bad big government is. Is Power 92 dead? (Later Googling would reveal that Power 92
is still around, at a different frequency.)
Leaving my suburb (Ahwatukee) three kids cross in front of us on two bikes and a skateboard and the kid on the skateboard wings his soda cup into a bush, straight-up old-school littering. It's nearly charming.
We spend the bulk of the six-hour drive listening to comedy albums in the little radio bubble created by Dan’s car’s iPod adapter. Not far outside of Phoenix a guy is pulled over onto the side of the highway, tying something that’s come loose to the side of his motorcycle, and I comment about how much it must suck to be him right then. A few minutes later he roars by us and we see him in his full splendor: the things on the side of his motorcycle are old military-surplus ammo boxes, and he is wearing a camouflage jacket and shiny Mussolini-style helmet. His license plate reads SUPRGOD. It is clear that he would disagree with me about who it sucks to be.
We ride past a big truck with several classic cars hitched to the back of it. On the side of the truck are painted the words “Nostalgia Express.” This is an appropriate truck to see driving out of your hometown on the way to a new city.
We stop for gas in Quartzsite, AZ. There’s a restaurant called Best Mexican Food and a trailer park which appears to have only one or two trailers in it and is mostly just a deserted field of trailer hookups jutting out of the ground. The sign for this trailer park advertises it as the WORLD FAMOUS MAIN EVENT. Of all the things Quartzsite is claiming to be world-famous for, what it really ought to be world-famous for is its insane superlatives.
Another trailer park is hanging out a big hand-scrawled sign reading “DOG WALK DOWN IN WASH,” with an arrow pointing down into a dry creekbed. Here is something they could be bragging about that they aren’t, because this is clearly one of the Southwest’s Most Obvious Murder-Traps.
Speaking of murder, next to us at the gas station a shady dude in an Ed Hardy shirt hops out of his truck and I look at him and think “Man, some people, like this guy, must be excited that Ed Hardy clothing makes it that much easier to look like a skeevy murderer.” It is then that I notice the guy has a machete shoved hilt-deep into the far right butt-part of the truck’s driver’s seat. Clearly Ed Hardy has undergone a target-audience shift not unlike the one Tommy Hilfiger underwent in the mid-90’s when it shifted from being popular among preppy white kids to rappers. Ed Hardy has gone from being popular among people who aspire to look like murderers to being popular among actual murderers.
Not long afterward, we pass into California and the scenery gets way less desolate and murder-y, and much more breathtaking. I am in Dan’s car now, at the front of the two-car caravan, and we are all pretty shocked and amazed when some hills part and we are driving into a misty sunlit valley, in which you can look up and see layer upon layer of mountain and cloud stretching back and back, getting dimmer yet more impressive, mountain and cloud becoming indistinguishable after a certain point. We are blasting loud music, Meggie is taking pictures, and it’s beautiful all the way through fields of endless windmills on either side of the road, almost comically everywhere. It will be a more positive memory than the dominant one of that particular stretch of road that I’ve had up until this point, where me and a bunch of other high school drama kids were riding through on an early-morning bus to Disneyland and the first girl I ever kissed was barking at me to give her a better back massage than the one I was giving her at the time.
Soon we’re in the part of Southern California that kind of seems like a prelude to LA, towns like San Bernadino and Ontario. Meggie and I are going to have to get vehicles now that we’re here, and we kind of car-shop the cars passing us on the highway. Peoples' preference for boxiness in cars is sussed out. (Mine is high for boxiness in old cars, low for new ones.)
We pull up in front of our new apartment building, and, in an echo of how New York traffic wouldn’t let us really leave for the longest time at the beginning of the trip, we have to wait out front for a little while for the lady who runs the building to show up with our keys, putting the official end-end of the journey in a so-close-yet-so-far-away place, aggravated by the fact that I have to go to the bathroom. But soon she shows up and we’re inside and upstairs and our places are great (Meggie found them and she did a heck of a job) and the trip is officially over.
Not long after, we are at In N’ Out Burger, at a table out front where a guy in blue scrub-bottoms asks us for a dollar in quarters, and when we all demure, he pauses to remove his sweater before going inside to ask everyone at every table. He is joined inside the restaurant by two young male LAPD officers, a huge table of toddlers of various races, including one little boy doing laps around the restaurant on his belly on a skateboard, and also everyone else in LA, it seems like.
After dinner when we were coming out of Ralph’s supermarket several blocks away, the homeless guy in blue scrub bottoms was standing next to our car. It wasn’t so much that he was in our evening but that we were in his.
We are here now, and we have a balcony.
Thanks for reading about our trip out to LA. I've gotten a really good reaction, and I think I will do a similar thing for my first 100 days in LA. So check back for that starting tomorrow, if you like observations and sweeping generalizations.
In Albuquerque we ate a not-very-good-lunch in an open-air mall that looks like it was designed by Macaulay Culkin and Michael Jackson late in the evening at a 1992 sleepover. On the road out of town, a police SUV streaked by us on the shoulder, on its way to a traffic stop where five or six police vehicles had surrounded a grey sedan. I checked my iPhone and the Most Fucked Man app identified the sedan’s driver as the Most Fucked Man in the area at that time.
I’m from Arizona, and I can tell you that outside of the major cities, Arizona pretty much runs on a brisk trade of petrified wood and meteorites. Really, anything small, old, and hard that you can hock at a roadside stand. Very quickly after crossing into Arizona we passed a mile stretch that could be titled “cliché tourist Arizona in a nutshell,” an enormous (and seriously impressive) naturally occurring hole in the side of a cliff, with a tacky diorama of a Native American cliff dwelling inside. Above, on the lip of the cliff, lots of plastic animals, many of whom had been knocked over by the elements. Below, a mall of multi-colored Indian-souvenir shacks.
I was kind of shocked by the tons of dinosaurs in the early part of northeastern Arizona. By dinosaurs, I mean, depictions of dinosaurs as advertisements for fossil exhibits and gift-shops. Like all kids, I loved dinosaurs. How I wasn’t losing my shit more as a kid and demanding to be taken to northeastern Arizona is beyond me. I’m a little disappointed in myself, to be honest.
The road passed over many creeks. One of them was called Crazy Creek. The crazy thing about Crazy Creek is it doesn’t have any water in it.
We stopped at a gas station with a lot of food options. It smelled terrible inside in an odd way I couldn’t nail down. On my way to the restroom I decided that this gas station was on the site where they killed the last real buffalo after chasing it across six or seven counties. There are other buffalo, sure, but those are sell-out buffalo, content to live in pens on non-working tourist-only ranches and lick melted chocolate off of a fat kid’s hand. This was the last real fuck-off buffalo and when it went it cursed the spot where it died with a smell you can’t stand but also can’t identify. Then, on the way out of the bathroom, I noticed that there was a small Subway franchise in the rest stop, and identified the smell as your typical Subway smell, put through a couple of wacked-out effects pedals. I liked my explanation better.
That same rest stop was offering lollipops with scorpions inside. It was fun imagining a candy factory that also has to function as a scorpion-killery.
Back on the road, we passed a sign for a knife store called Knife City Outlet. Knife City is where all 1950’s leather-jacket movie-rebels are from. We passed through a one-street town called Meteor City. It seems like there are a lot of “Cities” in this part of AZ. If by some incredible confluence of circumstances a rapper emerged from one of these barely-towns, it would be really tough for that rapper to rep his city: “What y’all know about my city? I represent Meteor City! I see you, stoic Native American man who lingers outside his trailer! I ain’t forgot you, busted tire swing next to freestanding cinder-block wall! If you ain’t from Meteor City, you ain’t Carl or me or Frank or the other person I mentioned!”
Around Flagstaff, we start to see road signs showing the way to Los Angeles, but we veer of to Phoenix because we’re staying with my family. I am proud of Northern Arizona and its varied landscapes: two hours north of Phoenix, where my grandparents live, is all forest, and that’s pretty cool. At another rest stop, I see a seven-or-eight year old kid who looks like a POG Slammer come to life, very round with an image of a neon orange skull on a green background on his chest.
We get to my house right when the GPS said we would and my stepmom has made lasagna. My aunt and uncle and cousin are there as well as my dad and two little brothers and my brother’s girlfriend. My aunt says the weather isn’t hot enough and my friends aren’t getting the full experience. We have a nice meal, and sit and visit for a while afterwards. Then later we all break our laptops out and do work around a kitchen table. It’s a weird colliding of worlds for me and to be honest it’s great.
Six hours to Los Angeles.
TRAVEL JOINTS: Saves The Day - "Third Engine"
We hit a Starbucks on the way out of Oklahoma City, and as we watched a sixteen-year-old take an enormous ice-y choclate-covered coffee thing out to his truck, Meggie pointed out that, the world over, one thing is constant: teenage boys LOVE froo-froo drinks from Starbucks.
The other side of Oklahoma featured more Oklahoma as you think of it, like, long flat stretches of land marked with the occasional farmhouse and not much else. At a gas station, Dan asked the woman behind the counter if they had any duct tape. This made her laugh uncontrollably. She insisted that Dan had had a smirk on his face when he made this already apparently ridiculous request and that the whole combination had just been too much for her. We left without any duct tape.
Later, at another gas station, we all came in one or two at a time to use the bathroom and buy snacks and water bottles. The clerk, a guy our age, said not one word to any of us through all the transactions. Fine, dude. Fine.
When I was in Dominic’s car and we’d drop too far behind Dan’s to be in their bubble of FM iPod adapter broadcast, this radio evangelist would break in on the station we were tuned to. He was maybe the least compelling, passionate evangelist of all time, and sounded like he was making up his show as he went along. “Uhm…now for uhm…Bible…Time.” He had a segment called Bible Time. He was not at all prepared for Bible Time, either.
We crossed into Texas and there were occasional sunshowers. We saw what has to be the world’s most bizarre skyline: a leaning, almost-falling-over water tower, and then the World’s Largest Cross. Our walkies lit up as both cars instantly thought the same thing: well we HAVE to stop at the World’s Largest Cross.
I hate to say it, but there’s a great big air of “Why’d we do this?” around the World’s Largest Cross. Statues depicting the Stations of the Cross encircle it and there’s lots of plaques and stuff, but none of them really try to explain why you’d want to build the World’s Largest Cross in the middle of Texas farmland. I think the thinking went something like “Crosses are good. Largeness is good. Tom, your family still own that field right off the 40?”
The World’s Largest Cross is corrugated steel with rivets all over the place, like a big piece of farm equipment. So if the US undergoes a huge counter-reformation and we all become pagans, we can use the World’s Largest Cross to store grain in.
There was a big plaque with the Ten Commandments on it, and across the top of it was written GOD’S TEN COMMANDMENTS. This put me in mind of when Tom Clancy starts a series of books and then hands it off to a lesser-known author or authors, but the series is still called TOM CLANCY’S ARCTIC COMMANDOS or whatever.
I couldn’t help but feel fourteen in the shadow of The World’s Largest Cross, like, the definition of irreverent. I really try not to make easy jokes about very religious people. I really do. But fucking…the World’s Largest Cross. Come on, man. I dunno.
The thing to do in Oklahoma or Texas or New Mexico seems to be to work your little truck stop into a sort of mega-rest-area slash Dairy Queen slash fireworks superstore, the sort of place you can get authentic Indian blankets and a giant stuffed buffalo if the mood strikes. Then the thing to do seems to be to buy up a whole bunch of billboards all along Route 66 advertising each attraction individually, a billboard each for turquoise jewelry and ice cream and hand-made bullwhips, each one with your mega-rest-area’s logo on it, so with each billboard passed, an image is built in the consumer’s mind of an oasis of Western frippery, chili-drenched road food, and trunk-busting fireworks anthologies. Then when that anticipation is at its high and the consumer finally arrives at your palatial mega-rest-area, you pay that bitch off IN SPADES. You have everything you’d said you’d have plus more. If one of your billboards advertised live buffalo, you’ve got ‘em, and if an billboard a mile later advertised buffalo burgers, you’ve got those too, irony be fucked.
And if you are not a major chain truck stop like Flying J, or one of these dynasty mega-rest-areas, the way to drum up business seems to be to appeal to the driver’s love of Jesus and/or America.
By New Mexico, we had passed into the kind of terrain I grew up in, and therefore take for granted a little more. Not really farmland anymore, just scrubby desert. One thing New Mexico seems to have more of than Arizona where I grew up is cool old painted roadside signs advertising service stations a little ways ahead. Not chain gas stations, but like, mechanics’ shops where you feel like you could get the whitewall tires on your solid tank of an American car fixed by a disconcertingly attractive mechanic with brooding, faraway eyes while you drink a bottle of Coke that came out of an icebox an old guy is sitting next to in a rocking chair. The design of these signs is amazing. Somebody’s saving them, right? We’re not just letting them rot away in the desert? Awesome, thanks.
I don’t know if it’s always been this way or if it’s a recession thing or a combination of the two, but the stretch of Route 66 headed into Albuquerque is the place to go if you are into empty, blasted gas stations. We were fooled a couple of times, following signs for gas and ending up at a seemingly recently deserted station. Those were creepy in their own right, and then there were the post-apocalyptic ones you can’t imagine ever functioned, the kind with the glass blown out and tortured rusty car bodies in front. A good place for a showdown.
It’s weird to stand next to your car as it’s being filled with gas and look down the road the way you came and see miles of blank billboards, because they’re all facing away from you, and then look to the other side of the road where the billboards should be facing you and those are blank too. It’s like a highway designed by art students as a statement on commercialism or negative space or something, or miles of drive-in-movie screens. Except it isn’t, it’s just that one or more of these mega-rest-areas got hit really hard by the economic downturn and closed down and took hundreds of billboards’ reason for being away. It’s an empty strange thing to look at.
We got in to Albuquerque kinda late and had vague aspirations of trying an actual local restaurant but since it wasa Sunday night and everything was closing already we said “fuck it” and went to the Chili’s across the parking lot from our hotel. Albuquerque Sheraton: gotta put you on blast for not only charging for wireless, but having a lame Byzantine per-computer structure for charging for that wireless. Our futuristic OKC space hotel (Hyatt Place) made you all look like chumps.
CORRECTION: Apparently, the World's Largest Cross isn't claiming to be the World's Largest Cross. That's my bad: it's claiming to be the Largest Cross In The Western Hemisphere. Where that's fucked up is, apparently there's a larger cross in Illinois. Cheers to commenter Carly for catching this. Jeers to me for completely botching it in the first place.
We left the Dierkes' at around one, a caravan now of two cars connected by walkie talkies. It turns out cell-phones are still preferable when you need to actually communicate nuanced information, but walkies are great for mutually deciding which rest stop looks like it will have Red Bulls, or doing static-y bits involving military walkie slang. You know, "bearing one-zero-niner," that kind of thing. You get to employ "niner" a lot when you are trying to figure out what station both cars can tune their radios to so the Ricky Gervais podcasts, being broadcast by one car's FM iPod adapter, will get picked up by both stereos. You know, the critical stuff.
Nobody waved a gun in our faces today so I'll break this up into tidbits, mostly interesting shit I saw on the side of the road.
- We used our walkies to coordinate a split-second maneuver that planted us squarely at the first Sonic in Arkansas for lunch. I ordered a cheeseburger that was supposed to be on texas toast and have onion rings and barbeque sauce on it. Instead, they brought me a chicken-fried-steak sandwich, bringing the number of days in a row I've eaten chicken-fried steak up to two. I think if I make it a full week I will become pure gravy and ascend to Heaven to be seated at Elvis' greasy right hand. (I also had chili-cheese tater tots and a Rt. 44 cherry Diet yes Diet Coke with extra cherries. Last time I checked, we live once.)
Sonic's croissant breakfast sandwich is apparently called the Croissonic. Direct swipe at Burger King's Croissandwich? Does anyone care? They're all tiny crescent-shapes in the long shadow of the fast-food-breakfast titan that is the Egg McMuffin anyway.
- According to an ad on the door of a truck stop, Husky brand chewing tobacco beats out Grizzly tobacco in taste tests. This is of interest to people who like to fire guns at both of those animals from the backs of loud motorized vehicles.
- On the way into Oklahoma, we passed an off-ramp to Muskogee, like where the Okie is from.
- Along the side of the road at one point there were three or four miles of near-identical piles of gravel, like a friendly dragon's back-spines. They were amongst a lot of construction and I guess they are going to be new road surface someday. On the other side of the road: emaciated cows. Between us and the cows, on the shoulder: fresh, classic, four-paws-straight-up roadkill.
- I love passing a high school. I would happily purchase a coffee table book featuring just pictures of high schools. They're just so charmingly bland. I think school boards who are looking to build a new high school take prospective architects to lunch and if while eating the plain white rolls that are served before the meal the architect says, "whoa, this plain white roll is WAY TOO SPICY," they say, "Congratulations, you'll be designing our new high school."
- Arkansas was very lovely to look at, as was most of Oklahoma. At one point we passed an innocuous hill that, once you looked close enough, you realized was carpeted in tiny orange and purple flowers.
- We got into Oklahoma City as the sun was setting. It's sort of flat, deserty, clean, like a place that could be populated entirely by NASA control room technicians who say folksy sayings when talking about controlled thruster burns and are mean with a slide rule. Geeky and southern.
- In OKC I saw a fat goth girl with red streaks in her hair doing the Carlton dance in the parking lot of a liquor store.
- Our GPS fucked up and took us through Bricktown, downtown OKC's revitalized-downtown come-have-a-microbrew district. It looked like a lot of fun to some people who had just been on the road three days and we were sort of excited that our hotel was there. Then our GPS got wise and put us back on the highway and took us several miles away to where our hotel actually was. We were bummed to see Bricktown go but our hotel ended up being a brand-new futuristic space hotel (no joke) on a strip of neon signs for other hotels and various restaurants, all of which promised large beers within stumbling distance of our space-hotel. Very exciting. The night was warm and the strip was shot through with a warm constant gust we christened the Oklahoma Meatwind.
- The place we went for dinner promised a free t-shirt and your picture on the wall if you ate a thirty-two ounce steak, a side and a salad. Dan and Dominic felt called. This kind of deserves its own post, with lots of video Donald got, but needless to say the meat was best described as "rubber-bands and tampons, spray-painted gray" and the whole thing was a hilarious nightmare.
- Dan, Donald and I drank scads of tequila in the mostly empty sports bar directly across from our hotel, which, it should be noted, is called Emerson Biggins. While this wasn't a good decision, it can certainly be called A decision.
TRAVEL JOINTS: Uncle Tupelo - "New Madrid"
I don't know if Bristol, VA has one of those signs when you come into town with the town's slogan on it. I didn't see because it was late when we drove in. So I just up and decided that the town's motto is "Don't leave until you've eaten a chicken-fried steak the size of your face! As a breakfast! Like, at the beginning of your day!" We went to IHOP after leaving the hotel and I ordered and ate as much of a face-size chicken-fried steak as I could.
A few hours later we pulled into a gas station. Dan started pumping gas. I couldn't find the bathroom but there was a port-o-potty across the lot so I entered it. As I was standing and peeing and looking through the little meshed port-o-potty window at the highway I was thinking what a nice day it was and what a good mood I was in. I heard a car's tires screech on gravel and thought, "huh." I exited the port-o-potty to see everybody else in the car and Dan already swinging it around towards me, window rolled down. "GET IN THE CAR, GET IN THE CAR," yelled Dan. I smiled. "They are doing a bit about leaving me at the gas station," I thought, "what a pleasant joke for a pleasant day," continuing to amble towards the car at a relaxed pace. "DON'T JUST HAVE A GOOFY SMILE ON YOUR FACE!" yelled Dan. "Get in the car!"
When I got in the car, Dan and Meggie and Donald told me what had happened: while I was in the toilet thinking how cool everything was, apparently a truck had come into the parking lot and parked, followed by a black Corvette that screeched in, blocking in the truck. A man who looked like DJ Qualls then limped out of the Corvette towards the truck, not a lifelong limp at all but a limp of recent injury, and started giving the truck's driver some shit. Then DJ Qualls pulled out a fucking gun and started threatening the driver with it. Apparently no one in the gas station was all that upset by any of it, staring about as much as you would stare at a grocery store clerk who just dropped a jar of beets on the floor, sort of interesting and unfortunate but nothing that doesn't happen on a Friday afternoon. So my goofy smile and snail's pace must have seemed really inappropriate just then. I had been prevented by the four blue walls of a portable toilet from knowing I was really close to a death-implement being waved around by a limpy nutjob. There had been countless billboards on the way into Tennessee to the effective of, "Hey guys, stop committing crimes with guns." We had mostly laughed about them. But apparently these billboards are addressing a very specific problem, namely, dudes putting their guns in other dudes' faces.
Later, we had Chic-Fil-A. Potential gun violence, then Chic-Fil-A. I don't think there's a better encapsulation of how I think life works than that. Fuck me Chic-Fil-A is good you guys. Meggie got Panera because she just had dental surgery and her teeth hurt, but getting Panera is still kind of a violation of the unspoken road trip code that you're supposed to shovel absolute shit in your face at all meals because, come on.
We got into Memphis a little after dark and made our way to Dominic's parents' house, through a little shopping district that is pretty much exactly like a main drag we have in my suburb in Phoenix, which we'll actually drive down later in the trip. There's a good chance your town has it too: the strip of chain restaurants nice enough to take your Prom date to, but not so nice that years later you won't say, "Uch, I can't believe I took my date to ______."
Dom's parents treated us to an awesome authentic BBQ dinner. On the way there, "Walking In Memphis" came on the radio because, come on. On the way back, Dom's mom told us that real Memphis residents hate Elvis. That is great to me.
The nice little island of good mood I was having while everybody else was staring at some guy and his weapon lasted through the rest of the day. It is very pretty out here, leaving aside the guns, and I'm having an awesome time.
Correction: Dyna on a reference I made yesterday:
Phone booth stuffing was a fad in the 50s, not the 20s. Go do your unresearched references in LA where they're less demanding. Just... go.
She's right. But doesn't it FEEL like it should have been the 20's? I feel like you see a good phone-booth-stuffing in a montage of things depicting the decadence of the Roaring Twenties, alongside a fast roadster and a girl doing the Charleston on a flagpole. No? It wasn't decadent? Just sweaty and a little homoerotic but more just suffocating and hell on a claustrophobic fratboy? Fine. I WILL go.
TRAVEL JOINTS: Jason Anderson - "From Here To There"
We are driving out to Los Angeles. When you fly from New York to LA, you take an entire country for granted. You have no idea how many sassy gas station cashiers and hilariously named local businesses you are missing out on. Next time you should really take six or seven days and see them all. And what is a car, really, besides a land-based plane piloted by you or one of your buddies, you know, a plane that has car windows, car windows you can stare out of while eating pizza-flavored Combos.
Donald is a genius at packing cars for trips. Dan's mom's Volvo was pretty much at capacity before Donald and I even put our not-insignificant amount of baggage inside. Dan and Meggie and I let the dude have at it while we went to get coffee. When we came back, the car was this close to having everything safely inside of it. After a little more fiddling, it was all there, smooshed up against the car's back windows like 1920's college students cramming into a phone booth because hey, it'll never be the Depression. There was a lot of stuff rolling around in the backseat, but it worked, and we didn't have to ship anything more than we already had. It's a foolish-pride thing.
It was hard to get all worked up about New York because New York would NOT LET US LEAVE. We did, however, in the impossibly slow crawl through Soho to the tunnel, see several classic New York types, like Puerto Rican dude on his cellphone shrilly insisting that he did not cheat, "she just sent me a picture;" attractive muscular black man in a t-shirt and fedora smoking a cigar and swaggering, and a ton more of the kinds of people you see bobbing up and down walking down the street in a scene in a movie where the main character has just arrived in the Big City and the shot of the main character in this sea of people is meant to convey that the main character, be he cowboy, Inuit, or mummy who will eventually learn how to breakdance, is a fish out of water. If we had seen a big meaty guy heave a drunk out of a bar and yell "AND STAY OUT!" after him, I think we would have hit Classic New York Type Bingo.
There was a banner on a Holiday Inn in Pennsylvania advertising a comedy club inside the hotel called Wise Crackers. I laughed and pointed this out to everyone and even read the sign aloud, but it was still a good ninety seconds before I actually got the "joke" of the name. I think I thought it was a non-sequitur. For someone who claims to be so enthusiastic about cleverly named local businesses I am usually the last to have the actual joke of them register fully. This might be my Achilles' Heel. This might bring about my downfall someday.
We got sort of a late start and for most of West Virginia and Virginia it was pissing down rain so the second half of the drive was rainy and dark and miserable. Low-hanging clouds gave every roadside gas-station and McDonald's its own little neon halo and every farmhouse or silo its own spooky backdrop. Things that look creepy in those conditions: An enormous steel crucifix, lit from underneath. A lighthouse-style searchlight emanating from deep within the woods. Pretty much everything on or off the road. Dan did a valiant job driving the whole nine and a half hours. Meggie did a valiant job planning the trip. I did a valiant job of having the Ricky Gervais podcasts on my iPod.
Tomorrow we pick up Dominic in his hometown of Memphis and from there...Texas?
TRAVEL JOINTS! Here is a great open-road song. More to come: Lucero - "Anjalee"
Also: Blueprint 3 in September. Fucking yes. It's too late for it to be summer, technically, but I think Jay might drop a few in the time machine and retroactively own summer '09. I'm super-psyched.
I keep almost writing about it and then not doing it, but me and the rest of DERRICK are leaving New York and moving to Los Angeles. We are going for great reasons and I’m very excited but the leaving New York part is a serious drag.
I think I love New York as much as I’ve ever loved any non-person thing, but placing it below people on the deserving-of-love scale seems kinda wrong, because it’s composed of people, millions and billions of them over the years, shaped by their comings and goings, and I think, more than any place in the world, designed to make their lives easy and fun and enlightening and enriching and communal. It also, by extension, makes them maddening and difficult and lonesome, and of course it does, because if a place is going to reflect the lives people have, it’s going to have those things too, in spades. It is gonna be straight with you, like a tough-talking New York City cabdriver in an old movie, and among the things it’s going to be straight with you about is the fact that there AREN’T really those tough-talking New York City cabdrivers with the hats pushed forward and the stogies, and when there are, even people who’ve been living in the actual New York for a long time think, “OOH, an old fashioned New York City cabdriver!” Because we too still have our mental, dream-New Yorks, the ones that formed from the more romantic parts of movies and TV shows and songs, somewhere inside of us. We had them when we came here, and it was whether or not we could find a place between New York as it is and your mental New York to actually wake up every day and exist in that would determine if we would move back to Hicktown or stay, and if we would stay we would probably stay happily forever, and not just happily but violently in love with this place that demands so much and gives so much.
And the things it demands from you aren’t always bad: sometimes it demands you be more competent and creative than you ever imagined you could be. And sometimes the things it gives you aren’t always good: Sometimes it gives you a drug problem or a random punch in the mouth. But it will give and take. Some places never give or take. Some towns you could live in for years and never have the place ask anything of you and never have it bestow anything on you either. You and the town will just nod at each other out of obligation while one of you is entering and one of you is leaving the gas station. And you will look up and not be able to tell what day or even what year it is. In New York it’s always aggressively today. I think it’s today here before it’s today anywhere else, regardless of time zone. I really do.
It’s a great place to live if you like juxtaposition, constantly, of everything, so much juxtaposition and contradiction that you would swear that’s how New York generates its power, the visual collision of everything, rich banging against poor, sacred against profane, naked commercialism versus high-falutin’-ism, everything. A huge SUV emblazoned with a big advertisement for an unknown club DJ who also apparently has his own energy drink versus six Hasidic school kids versus a homeless guy dressed only in trashbags versus oh, look, David Bowie. And when you wisely elect to take your headphones off, people on the street saying the most inane, beautiful shit you’ve ever heard. Not to over-generalize but it’s a great place to live if you like lives, yours and other peoples’.
A thing I got a lot when I would go places that weren’t New York after I moved to New York was “Man, you talk FAST. Is that a New York thing?” And the answer is, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s more a characteristic of people who are drawn to New York, and, once there amongst like-minded people, can let their tendency to talk fast, both directly and discursively, come in to its full neurotic flower. They can talk as fast as they think, and though their thoughts aren’t guaranteed to be well-reasoned or even, you know, SANE, they will always be emphatic and each thought will always have another one right behind it. It is cool. I like it. Maybe it’s obnoxious or condescending. But I hope it’s something you can take with you. I hope the rhythm of a place where everybody likes to do six thousand things in twenty four hours doesn’t eventually get beat out of you. Maybe it does. I’d be sad if it did.
A lot of friends, when tolerating a fast, discursive, hugely whiny thought of mine about leaving New York recently, have responded “You can always come back.” Which is totally true. And I honestly can’t wait to come back. I know people who are just moving here now, in the summer, and I am so jealous that they get to move a mattress up eight flights of stairs in Bushwick and then go downstairs that night, covered in dried sweat and buzzed from exhaustion and post-moving beers and think, “Well, I’m here now.” You can move to New York any number of times but you can only move there for the first time once, and if you are just having that experience now, or you are planning to soon, or considering it as a vague-someday-thing, I’m jealous. And if you’re thinking about it, do it. I don’t worry about that being bad advice because the people who move here are going to move here and the people that aren’t, aren’t. (More snobbish predestination talk from somebody who’s only lived here five and a half years and is awfully fucking anxious about whether or not he can be said to be a “New Yorker” and is very worried that the most that can be said about him is that for a time he “lived in New York.”)
Anyway, what gets me and prevents the totally true statement “You can always come back” from getting all the way through to me and making me feel much better is, even if I come back, THIS time I lived in New York is over. This part. When this part started, I was a recent high school graduate. This part contains my entire college career and my entire professional career up until this point, and meeting all my current best friends and business partners and just about everybody I know. This part is everything that you could call my “adult life” so far. It is crazy to me and sad to me that it’s over. And of course it had to be eventually, and that’s fine. But it is, like anything that can be described as “part of growing up,” kind of a bummer. It’s definitive, and who likes definitive?
Anyway, big sweeping kiss-offs like this one are kinda pointless and swiss-cheesed by the fact that if you’re lucky, you go back and forth all the time. (We’ll be back in August for the Del Close Marathon, for instance.) I’m not, to my knowledge, dying. And I don’t want to go into LA dragging all kinds of hang-ups and preconceptions about the place. I want to enjoy it on all the fucked-up amazing levels I am told it offers. It will be an adventure, and I will probably write about it saying the kind of no-shit-Sherlock stuff you say when you have just moved to a place and the stuff that is standard about it is fresh to you. Also I will eat hell of tacos.
It has been so fucking good, you guys. It really has. I am deeply in love with New York and deeply thankful for my time here. I’ve always said everything good everybody has ever said about it is true, and everything bad they’ve ever said about it is true. Right now and for a long time I will probably only be able to remember the good things. Thanks for having me and letting me live and make stuff here. I think it brought out a lot of good things in me but I didn’t live here long enough to be good enough to accurately say how great it’s been.
I just did a verse on a song on Donald's new album. I think it came out really well and I'm excited for you to hear it. This is not that song. This is another song we did. It will be on his new mixtape. Enjoy.