I have an existential crisis on Tuesday night: we have a DERRICK show at UCBLA later. I haven’t eaten yet. I have a certain amount of time between now and the show, an amount of time where food could be eaten and then coffee could be gotten and while the coffee is being drank, work could probably get done. A beautiful romantic picture forms in my head of driving somewhere near UCBLA and getting dinner someplace, eating while reading the book I’m reading, then going to a nearby coffee shop and drinking coffee while working on the laptop for a little while. I have precisely the right amount of time to make this a reality. What I don’t have is any knowledge of any places near UCBLA where this series of events could transpire. It’s a swank little neighborhood rich with culinary and cultural opportunity. I am sure there are a hundred places that could meet these reasonable needs. I just can’t picture any of them. I don’t know LA at all, really. I haven’t hung out a bunch. This realization couples with my hunger to create a mindstate where I am incapable of doing anything but dicking around on the computer, cyclically checking my e-mail and the same four websites, startling myself every four minutes by remembering I need to go if I hope to salvage any part of the beautiful romantic picture I had in my head, despairing when I remember I don’t know where to go, and starting the cycle again. By the time I get it together enough to head out I have demolished my comfortable timeframe and I need to head straight to the theater if I want to make it to the show, thus resolving the where-to-go problem in the least satisfying way possible. Sitting here now with the benefit of hindsight, I can think of at least three places on the exact same block as the theater where I could’ve gone to eat, or gone for coffee. It’s just sometimes you get really hungry and confused and depressed for no reason, and you put yourself between your bedroom and the rest of the world.
I arrive at the theater and I realize that in killing my time with my number two favorite comfortable-time-cushion-before-a-show-consuming activity, checking e-mail and despairing, I’ve forgotten to engage in my number one favorite time-cushion-consuming activity, making a mix of house music to play before the show. This is my favorite thing to do in the world. I think it is the whole reason I like performing live. I like to make you listen to the songs I like. I realize to most audience members it is entirely inconsequential and interchangeable, but when I first started to going to UCBT in New York there was nothing cooler than the music that played before shows. It didn’t really matter what it was, just that it was loud and vaguely familiar yet sort of obscure. I was there to see a comedy show. It should not have mattered what was playing beforehand, it should not have enhanced my experience that much or been that memorable to me, but it did, and it is. And now I get to perform comedy shows, and I’m allowed to hand the tech person some house music, so I like to put an amount of thought and effort into the mix that is inversely proportional to how much it will be or even should be appreciated. I get a big kick out of it. I blow entire late afternoons.
But I completely forgot to do it this time. And I don’t have my iPod so I can’t use an old playlist. This means we also don’t have intro or outro music. We have to go with the perfectly fine choices made by the tech person. I am sure no one notices but me, and I don’t mean that in a “You SHOULD notice, audience swine!” kind of way. You shouldn’t. It doesn’t really matter. But the stuff that doesn’t really matter is oftentimes the stuff that it’s most fun to put time and effort and thought into.
After the show, Ben and Megan and Donald and I get In-N-Out. We are caravanning over in signature Los Angeles it-doesn’t-make-sense-to-use-this-many-individual-vehicles-to-transport-this-many-people fashion, and Donald is there first and calls me to say they’re closing soon. He takes our orders and we get there as the restaurant is shutting down and we sit outside around a table and eat and talk. Some event at Hollywood and Highland is leaking well-dressed hipster-y people our way. A group of men who you could not prove to a jury of your peers are not the band Jet circle the block a few times. All the lights finally go out and suddenly we all feel like fifteen year olds, like we need to skateboard home in different directions before curfew.
We had a really fun show. When I get home I bum around my room smiling for the rest of the evening because of it. If you were there, thank you for coming!
I am reading the book I’m reading before falling asleep. In it, a character is in an office where the person whose office it is has a copy of the poem “Invictus” up on the wall. It is the second time that day I’ve seen the word “Invictus.” I saw it earlier in a piece of movie news because apparently there is a rugby movie being made by Clint Eastwood and it’s called that. My girlfriend in high school had the poem up on her bedroom wall. If you’ve never read it, it’s a pretty fucking intense thing for a high school girl to have on her wall. It contains the line “I thank whatever Gods may be for my unconquerable soul.” Also the line “my head is bloody but unbowed." There is a pit of endless darkness. Further Googling reveals it was Tim McVeigh’s final statement before being executed for committing the Oklahoma City bombing. I don’t know why it decided to inflict itself thematically upon my day. Maybe because it knew I needed some shoring up, some reminder of my inalienable dignity and humanity after my defeat in the Battle Of Knowing A Good Place For Dinner.
I thought it was cool she had “Invictus” on her wall. I still do.
On Monday morning, a woman comes by my apartment to run a bunch of tests that will determine my eligibility for the health insurance I’m applying for. She is very nice. She comes in and we sit on my couch in the living room. She looks at my age on some forms. “24!” she says. “I wish I was still 24. Knowing what I know now.” I ask what that is. She says she can’t explain, but all she can say is when you look at something you do the math of it in your head, and in your 30’s and 40’s, you do the math totally differently. She pulls an entire little bathroom scale out of her messenger bag and places it on the little square tile area in front of our front door. I take off my shoes and stand on it. She records my weight.
“NYU!” she says, seeing it on my forms. “I went to NYU.” She went for acting. While taking my full medical history, she tells me the industry – and this, she says, will save me some therapy – has an interest in making me crazy and co-dependent. Men are most successful in their 40’s because they were young and headstrong and in their 40’s they’re ready to play ball. Women, she says, this is why women are discarded as they get older, because in their 40’s, they’re strong, crazy, they don’t give a fuck, and no one wants to deal with them. “Lock the door!” the woman says, imitating a studio exec who is afraid of a woman in her 40’s. She takes a pretty large blood sample from my left arm.
She is tired of movies and TV shows meant to appeal to teens and cast with teen actors playing teenagers. She says the recession means only movies that appeal to all ages can get made, and she welcomes this. She thinks it will bring about a new golden age. If you act like you’re already crazy, she says, they (the industry) will leave you alone and won’t try to make you crazy, because they will think, our work here is done. This will save you some therapy, she says again. Then she hands me a tiny plastic pitcher to pee in, and two vials to pour the pee into. I am supposed to fill the vials up to the blue line. I go into my bathroom and she stays in the living room, sitting on my couch.
I have a garage door opener in my car that lets me into the lower garage of our building, where my parking space is. I have finally determined the perfect distance my car should be away from the garage-door-opening ceiling-mounted robot box to allow me to open the garage door with only one firm, satisfying button-press when I am exiting the garage. This golden ratio has completely eluded me on the other side of the gate, though, when I’m entering the building, when I’m out with all the traffic, blocking the alley, and the heat is on, and I’m pressing the button a thousand times like I’m a monkey and it’s hooked to the orgasm part of my brain, except the expression on my face is one of frustration instead of orgasmic monkeyjoy. The only range at which the opener works on this side of the gate seems to be “way too fucking close.” Every day I pull up at what seems to be a reasonable distance. I press the button a bunch of times. I pull closer to the gate. I press the button a bunch more times. I pull even closer to the gate, now close enough that I am reasonably certain the gate will whack my front bumper on its way skyward. I press the button even more times. I pull just a LITTLE closer to the gate. I press the button. The gate opens. I’m sure it’s going to hit my bumper. It doesn’t. Some day it will. I am dreading it so much I think I’m actually looking forward to it.
Inside, by the elevators, there is a note assuring us that the East Elevator will soon be fixed. I think, East Elevator is a grandiose way to describe the elevator I think of as “the other crappy one.” The note says that when it’s done, the two ladies that run the building will tell us “with a big : ) on our faces!” Like, a smiley-face symbol. It’s a type-written note.
That night, Dan and Dominic and I see a movie. I’m the first one there so I kill time next door at Borders. I will know it is time to have a relationship when I meet someone and they like me and I like them as much as I like killing time in a bookstore.
At the movies, I get a big popcorn and a soda. When the woman weighed me that morning, it turned out I weigh ten pounds less than I’d been assuming I weighed for a long time. I had been avoiding scales, figuring general post-college neglect and body-abuse would have resulted in some bloat, a fact I didn't want to be represented by a hard figure. But nope. I am as skinny or skinnier than I was at my skinniest. I take this news as an excuse to shove popcorn in my face. It's a thing I would have done anyway, but it is more fun when it feels like a reward for inexplicable weight maintenance.
By the time I get home, the Good Luck album has played twice over in my car that day. It’s called “Into Lake Griffy,” and it’s one of the CDs Emilyn gave me in New York. Good Luck is from Bloomington, IN. They’ve only been around a few years and it’s their first album. On this particular day, it sounds like perfect music. The lyrics are very honest and apt and smart. There are boy-girl harmonies, which are my main weakness. The hooks are on fucking point. Their songs sometimes shift gears in a way that when lesser bands do it it’s gimmicky and tiresome, but the gear they switch into is always also beautiful and makes a dynamic counter-point kind of sense. You should go to their Myspace page and listen to the following songs: “How To Live Here,” “Man On Fire,” “Stars Were Exploding” and…the rest. Or just go on iTunes and buy the album. I like it a great deal, and I wish they were playing in Los Angeles any time soon.
On Sunday Meggie and I go out into the world to get props for one of the new DERRICK videos we are shooting. I have not had lunch yet but we are in kind of a time bind and real food won’t be coming for a while so I grab a Vanilla Coke and a Snickers at the CVS. I can play this off like a snack of last resort but in reality I was thrilled at the excuse to eat my favorite candy bar and drink a bottle of the soda that, when it was first released in high school, became my temporary reason for being. New-to-the-market sodas were fifty cents for a twenty ounce bottle oftentimes at the grocery store where I worked. Mountain Dew: Code Red had either just come out or was about to. It was the soda equivalent of the time between the birth control pill and HIV: a heyday that those who lived through it speak of in reverent, nostalgic tones, knowing they’ll probably never see the likes of it again.
KMART is our first stop. For some reason everyone inside is frantic. Folks are tearing the place apart. Over the loudspeaker, employees are actually making “Attention K-Mart shoppers” announcements, which I didn’t know they really did, outside of movies and comedy routines. The sign over the appliance section is partly in Spanish: “Electrodomesticos,” it says, which puts me in mind of a flee of Latino robot maids.
Next we go to Whole Foods, which is right next door. The bananas we’ve picked out ring up as “OG bananas.” When we get out to the street, the bananas’ old homeys say “Welcome back, man.” The bananas think long and hard about what they missed when they were in prison. The time they will never regain.
Outside, it’s a beautiful day. Like, Woody-Allen-witheringly beautiful. Sometimes, pretty is inarguable. Pretty will trump a lot of things.
We go inside and start shooting. At one point I look over and Meggie is playing with some No. 2 pencils, doing the grade-school classic “wiggle the pencil, making it look like rubber” trick. You know what you don’t see in your life ever anymore? No. 2 pencils. A lot like cursive, they were something insisted upon in our early education only to disappear in the adult world. I think they might have just been a test to see if we would do something arbitrary if they insisted.
During the shoot, my laptop gets put through it. Early on it gets knocked off the coffee table and lands on the carpet, Pac-Man-mouth open. Later, I am sitting on the couch, and I swing my leg up to cross my legs and I kick the computer’s edge, causing that corner to fly up and come smacking down again on the coffee table. The hard drive makes a tractor noise for a little while.
We knock off late and go to get dinner/breakfast at Pacific Dining Car. We went one time a few weeks back and a man greeted us at the door and said they were “cleaning the carpets” and we couldn’t come in. Ever since then we have been wary of returning, thinking we might be refused entrance, not wanting to get cast out into the wilderness again to hunt down eggs on our own at that time of night in a city where absolutely everything shuts down eventually.
They’re open. We sit down. The steak knives are like scimitars. They have amazing biscuits, and Donald orders those biscuits in his eggs benedict as a substitute for English muffins. It is a brilliant move, casually executed. He just ASKS. The rest of us are astounded. It is like watching someone and suddenly they take off and begin to fly and you’re like, how did you do that, and they’re like, we all can, we always could. It was there all along.
When his eggs benedict arrives, it has the plain old English muffins, not the miracle biscuits. We vow to return, and at that time all of us will order the genius meal, the new way of seeing, and we will make damn sure it gets brought to us. Because you can’t just go to a restaurant if you can help it. It should be a mission.
On Saturday morning I leave the apartment. Downstairs, I catch a cab. We are headed to LaGuardia so I can return to Los Angeles, a city once maligned in a lesser Death Cab For Cutie song. I have not slept and my body is slowly realizing it will not sleep any time soon so it is deciding instead to click into a sleepless euphoric appreciate-everything mode. We go over the Triboro Bridge, in the exact same direction and more or less in the exact same lanes I had taken with Emilyn the day before in her mom’s car. On my right, all the stuff I used to walk by to go to the park, including a housing tower I watched be built over the course of one summer two years ago. It is still shiny and nice and in a corner apartment a woman in sitting in her window in a red dressing gown. This side of the bridge, this little corner where the road meets the N train, has unexpectedly dominated my weekend.
I get to the terminal with plenty of time and I cockily entertain notions of getting through security, getting some coffee, sitting down at the gate and getting some writing done. A lot of getting will be involved. These optimistic thoughts are apparently broadcast to Fate as a set of instructions on What Not To Do With Me.
The kiosk will not print my ticket so I go up to the desk. The woman behind the desk takes my confirmation information and puts it into the computer and then, with her eyes still fixed on the screen, starts making one of those faces where you know she is seeing your doom spelled before her in proprietary corporate software language. I tell her that Travelocity had called me a few days ago and said that the airline had cancelled one leg of my flight back to Los Angeles, and that they could rebook me on a different flight at no extra charge. I had said “Okay, go ahead and do that,” and shown up at the airport with a newly minted confirmation number that was supposed to grant me access to a seat on a different flight. The woman tells me that she can see that they tried to do that, but that they can’t do that, not without charging me more money. Not only that, she says, but the flight that they said was cancelled was never cancelled at all. She says she doesn’t know where they got that information. She tells me to get on the phone with Travelocity, that they have to fix it on their end. She is very pleasant and very helpful. She tells me I have plenty of time.
I end up on the phone with a man at Travelocity who has a thick Indian accent. I explain my situation to him. He says he understands and puts me on hold. The Travelocity hold music is crazymaking. Rather than the kind of hold music that seems to be a tap into an adult-contemporary station somewhere, so the music is insidious, yes, but at least it’s ever-changing, this hold music is a loop of maybe twenty seconds, interspersed with a man’s voice that thanks me for holding. It is the kind of hold music that presumes you will never be putting anybody on hold for more than sixty seconds. Two minutes, maybe. Six runs through the little music loop. Annoying but forgivable. I am on hold for thirty minutes. I am standing at the counter and I really have to pee.
My man at Travelocity breaks in. He tells me he is working with the airline. Then he puts me back on hold. He returns twenty minutes later, twenty minutes I have spent shifting from leg to leg, experiencing the part of the theory of relativity that states an object at rest having a miserable air-travel experience will see every other object as a jet-setting golden child breezing through ticketing and security on their way to fun in the sun. He tells me he is still working with the airline. I ask him for any information. “Sir,” he says, “they have not provided me with information.” He puts me back on hold. I am very frustrated. This is the definition of not my fault. At least give me the opportunity to screw up myself so I can turn the loathing inward. I am not used to spraying it outward. It doesn’t feel good. You told me I needed to change something I didn’t need to change, and then you changed it in a way that didn’t work, leaving me with no decent options.
It seems like the voice comes on every moment to say “Thank you for holding.” What do you know, I think. Where do you get off thanking me for holding, for my patience, for my time? You’re an automated voice! Time is meaningless to you! You float in an endless sea of this hold music that stretches in all directions forever! You have no idea what it is to be a living being with a beginning and an end, to have a finite amount of time to be a dignified, singular being, only to have that finite amount of time gobbled up by bureaucracy, which from up close seems to consist of your fellow singular beings, but as you zoom out, as you follow it up the chain, recedes and fuzzes into “our computers” and “the system” and “corporate,” things you are too just-one-man-enough to fight.
And after “thank you for holding,” there’s a little skip in the music, a piano hiccup, maybe where the loop begins or ends, maybe not. It’s not the little tape blip’s fault, but I would crush it if it were real and here and dancing on the desk, I swear I would.
And I can’t even vent my frustrations by writing big block-letter psychotic shit like I AM DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS in my notebook, because of terrorism and security fears. I try to get gnashed apart by only one faceless syndicate a day.
The woman behind the desk tells me not to walk away until she sees they’ve changed everything and the reservation has gone through the airline’s computers. She doesn’t want me to get screwed out of another flight. After maybe ninety minutes, after it is too late to board the flight I arrived at the airport thinking would take me halfway home, the guy breaks back in. He tells me they have booked me on a later flight, one around noon. There will be no extra charge, he says. It will take about an hour for the change to go through their system, he says. I ask the woman, who has been my constant soothing companion, if I’m okay to walk away, if they can be trusted. She says sure, I should go sit down and she’ll go on break and we’ll come back and check on the reservation in about an hour. She tells me I’ll have plenty of time.
I go take a seat. My iPhone screen is all greezed up from having my sweaty, unshowered head pressed up against it for a whole morning. Standing at the counter I felt like I saw a thousand happy couples, one seeing the other off on some adventure or both of them going into the sky together, while I stewed and went insane, dying an old sort of young just standing there at the ticketing counter. Disintegrating. I thought this exact thought: “What is for me? What is for me in this life?” This was of course a function of the mopey perspective granted someone who’s having a shit time, but it doesn’t help that as soon as I sit down I see Matt and Kim get their tickets and check their instruments and walk more or less unburdened towards security, with a guy I’d guess is their manager. Matt and Kim are a boy-girl indie synthpop duo reportedly so happy and hands-in-each-other’s-pockets that they share a cellphone. It is like I was annoyed by generic rabbits all morning and then fucking Bugs Bunny came by. (Their alleged contentment inspired this poem I wrote. They would later put out a record I really enjoy. Their music can be heard in the pilot for “Community.”)
My greasy phone rings. It is a call from an unknown number. It’s another Indian fellow from Travelocity. He asks if I want to get on an 11 o’clock flight rather than a noon flight. Bonus, I think. I tell him sure. He tells me to get ready to receive my flight information. “United Flight—“
I lose my shit, the shit I had only recently regained. I tell him I am in the US Airways terminal and if it’s not a US Airways flight, I can’t do an 11 o’clock, it’s ten-fifteen and I won’t make it to the other terminal in time, they’ll already be boarding. He tells me I have time. I think, maybe I do have time, and I ask someone where the United terminal is. That someone tells me it’s a ten minute walk and points in the direction I have to go. I start walking. The guy stays on the phone with me. I tell him that if I miss this brand-new flight I will need to be able to go on the noon one they had previously booked for me. He tells me that there is no noon reservation, that they were not able to actually reserve it. This is the only flight they have for me. He had presented it as a bonus when in fact it was the only option, and an impossible one at that. He tells me this as I am trooping through the open air, over grass and little hills and pavement, through summer in New York, trying to be fast, my breathing ragged, all hot and fucked up and mad. I tell him that if I miss this flight, they’ll be booking me a new one. He assures me I won’t miss the flight.
I arrive at the United ticketing counter. I put my information into the kiosk. The kiosk tells me it’s too late to check in for that flight. The woman behind the counter tells me the same. She is helpful and immediately understanding, like my friend back at the US Airways counter who worked very hard all morning for me only to see me (or rather, not see me, she was off on break) spun off on some other adventure on some other airline at the whim of a distant reservations mainframe. She tells me she can book me on a plane at 2 PM, but there will be a seventy-five dollar charge. I tell the guy on the phone that I can’t check in for the flight he booked for me. “Yes you can,” he insists, “you have time—“ I then launch into a tirade, a thing I don’t launch into very often in real life, and it’s not well-composed or well-thought-out and it’s about what you’d expect from someone who hasn’t slept and has spent a morning feeling like a rube, a mortal plaything of gods that aren’t even cool enough to have thunderbolts so they have lawyers instead, and it’s about how he’s not there, I am, and he doesn’t see what’s going on, and I do, and this woman is telling me I can’t get on the plane and she knows what she’s talking about, but she says she can book me on this later plane at a cost of seventy-five dollars, and I won’t be paying the seventy-five dollars, Travelocity will. The guy says he will talk to his supervisor.
I’m on hold again. The new behind-the-desk woman and I commiserate. I thank her for being so cool. The guy comes back on and says they will pay the seventy-five dollars. I thank him and apologize for being, you know, brief. He says it is not a problem and he hopes I will book travel with them again sometime. When he says this, I don’t laugh out loud.
I have to wait a long time at LaGuardia. I mosey around the bookstore. I sit in front of a big, big window and look out while I rip some of the CDs Emilyn gave me onto my laptop. In the window, a dirty feather floats down and out of view. Dozens of blue-shirted TSA employees come down a bank of escalators to my right all at once, like a slow security waterfall. In the sky, a blimp heads straight away from me.
I connect in Colorado. On the second plane, I’m on the aisle. As we’re boarding the guy in the window seat is talking on his cellphone and says, “Hey man, I left my laser in your mom’s garage.” From the book I’m reading, I learn that “corolla” is a word, not just a made-up car name. It means the flower part of a flower, essentially.
Back in Los Angeles, I am picking up my car from the airport lot where I parked it, and an old woman stops me from driving away with a cup of iced coffee still perched on top of the vehicle, which is my signature move.
Friday in New York is glorious and sunny. I get out of bed and take a shower and put on the same shirt I wore on Wednesday, because no one who saw me Wednesday is gonna see me today. Except Dan and Meggie, and they get it. Or this is what I think as I’m putting on the shirt, anyway. I will get downstairs and get into a cab and realize, oh wait, a whole ton of people who saw me Wednesday are going to see me tonight. But by then it’s too late and I don’t really care. I am traveling. If anyone wants to think hard about it, that can be my excuse for wearing the same shirt two days in the same week, a thing I would also totally do if I didn’t have traveling as an excuse.
I spend Friday afternoon with Emilyn. She is a singer-songwriter who plays the ukelele. I had seen her open up for The Decemberists at NYU my sophomore year. I developed a world-ending crush on her during the course of her maybe-thirty-minute set. I walked around with it for two or so months. She claims I talked to her after the show. I have no recollection of this whatsoever, but it’s very possible I ran my classic “mumble and leave” game on her. Anyway, we ended up becoming Internet friends this summer just as I was moving away and so we made time to kick it on this particular afternoon for the first time ever in person because life will take you to some really cool places sometimes, it really will.
First Emilyn (rightly) makes fun of me because I had said I was staying on the Upper West Side when I was actually staying on the Upper East Side, a fucking week-one tinhorn move if ever there was one. It was not a slip of the tongue, either. I thought about it for a good twelve seconds before saying it. Then she gives me a tour of her amazing house. It’s old and dripping with charm and lots of people live there on its seemingly infinite floors. From the balcony you can see onto the balconies of Columbia’s Fraternity Row. It’s the middle of the afternoon at the tail end of summer break, and yet no one is out on any of these balconies playing flip-cup or going “Woo!” I judge the fraternities of Columbia University to be unhardcore.
The house, like most of the coolest New York things, breaks my heart in the best of ways. At one point in the kitchen a fly zooms by my head and I swat at it and miss but as I tilt my head up to see where it went I see a disco ball hanging from the ceiling I never would have seen had the fly never gone by. Emilyn gives me vitamins for the vibrate-y coughing thing that is still ailing me, and gives me a thousand CDs. She is going to a show in Brooklyn and I have lots of time to kill before my show so we decide we will eat an early dinner in Williamsburg. She drives us there in her mother’s car.
In the car, I lay eyes on Columbia’s campus for the second time ever. We go down 125th to the Triboro Bridge and into Queens, past where I used to walk to Astoria Park where I would run, by the most depressing building in American history which I used to walk by as I was walking to the park and think “This has to be the most depressing building in American history” because it is three stories of glassless windows and weird nooks full of ditched bikes and burnt mattresses. The drive from Queens to Brooklyn is good for a view of Manhattan. Emilyn keeps pointing out touristy things to me and then apologizing because she knows I lived here for six years and only recently moved.
We end up at a Thai place where me and a couple kids I wouldn’t hang out with much after the first couple weeks of college had dinner one night during Orientation Week, after we took our first-ever L-train ride into Williamsburg, which we had heard was possibly a hip place, a point of interest to budding young urbanites such as ourselves, and had this confirmed by the fact that the Thai place had a shallow pool in the front window with flowers floating in it. It still has this shallow pool. It also has a stereo system playing a whole album’s worth of a woman singing lounge covers of Beatles songs with un-genderbended lyrics.
Food triggers the onslaught of fatigue and nausea and then the inexplicable blissed-out universe-love that I know to be a hangover. I apologize for instantaneously becoming worse company. I don’t finish my food and Emilyn is going to take it with her and I ask her if she really wants to lug it around all night at her show and she makes fun of my use of the word “lug” when referring to something that will probably end up being pretty small after it's all wrapped up.
After dinner she gives me a ride to the subway. She has given me the thousand CDs I mentioned and even one of her t-shirts. I’ve put them all in my backpack. On the L train, which I have ridden a thousand times since the first time I rode it with those kids who I wouldn’t end up being good friends with for no particular reason, a woman across from me is reading “Here Is New York” by E.B. White, which Emilyn and I were just talking about and I’ve never read and am only aware of because DERRICK used to run a show called “This Is New York,” and the train goes into Manhattan and that’s how one of the all-time great New York afternoons ends.
That night I have dinner with Emilie, my best non-DERRICK friend, and she sorts out a lot of my problems and makes me feel saner than I suspect I actually am. I miss her so much. Then I have two Marathon shows: a reunion of every person who’s ever been on the Harold team The Law Firm performing on one stage, which is an absolute blast, and then the DERRICK show at 1 AM on the mainstage, which is also an absolute blast. I will spend the rest of the night in the smoky sweaty disgusting party-war that is the Del Close Marathon, soaking it the fuck in, because it only happens once a year, a Christmas for comedians. I almost forgot! I have a third show: at four AM I get to participate in a show where a bunch of people heckle Ben Schwartz, one of the all-time class acts and one of my oldest friends in the community. It is, it should go without saying, an absolute blast.
At dawn I walk downtown to meet up with Dan at his brother Jeff’s apartment. New York is the perfect combination of hazy and dim and clear-skied and Gatsby-party-pastel. A skinny multiracial man in a stocking cap and tight denim everything carries a shiny paper star and a bottled beer. Around 23rd Street there is a line of NYPD tow trucks idling at the curb, and almost all of them have two cops asleep in the front seat. I watch a woman un-padlock Madison Square Park. A cocky geometrically impossible condo tower nears completion. Park Avenue is lined with barriers, like there is going to be a parade. Every barrier has a cop at it, even though the streets are more or less deserted. A female police officer named Hannigan tells me that today, Park Avenue is only for cyclists and pedestrians, until 2 PM.
As I walk New York does for me the dance we do when we know, for numerous good reasons, we can’t be together, but we just feel like torturing one another. It makes you say, every second that I didn’t spend as a wide-open eyeball and a raw nerve to this place was wasted. But, by its nature, it overawes and jades you. You cannot take it all in. I love it so fucking much. Sure it’s more comfortable in LA. But I’m in my twenties, y’know? Discomfort’s still kind of comfortable to me.
I get bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll from a deli that used to be on one corner until it moved around the block. I eat it on Dan’s brother’s couch. Every part of me wants to stay on that couch and sleep in ‘till whenever but Dan and I have to go uptown because we both have flights that morning back to Los Angeles.
Emilyn, your vitamins fell out of my pocket immediately as I took the stage for my first show of the evening. I picked them up and put them back in my pocket even though I knew I wasn’t going to eat them because they’d been on the floor. I’m not going to eat them, but I think at least one of them is still in my pocket, and here it is a week later.
I was interviewed by screenwriter/blogger Ben Axelrad for his website. I think it came out really really well. It represents an insane amount of work on Ben's part and I think I gave a pretty good account of myself so I would love it if you would go over here and read it:
I sleep most of Thursday in New York. This probably seems counterintuitive, sleeping the day away in the place I recently moved away from, a place I view like it is some kind of benevolent, peopled God, from which all good things flow, a place I miss terribly. But I am in town for the Del Close Marathon, which is two days and change of continuous longform improv on multiple stages, and even though I will only be there pretty much long enough to do the DERRICK show on Friday night (or Saturday morning, at 1 AM), it is still going to be a sweaty endurance test, one I’m supposed to be funny in the middle of. So I bank sleep. I wake up. After taking a shower I discover there is deodorant in my backpack. I guess I unwittingly snuck this unauthorized gel product through security. I am thrilled by my own unconscious rebellion. I’m a Bad Boy, and for a second I find myself sexually attractive.
Out the apartment window, the city looks golden-skied for a second. But when I get down to the street, New York is encased in a protective layer of cloud. It’s dark soon enough, though, so it doesn’t make much of a difference. I eat a burrito from a taco truck, something I could absolutely do in LA. I know this. I know this as I’m ordering it, and I know it as I’m eating it there standing at the little metallic lunch counter that extends from the side of the truck. But I am excited to be on the street just then, and reluctant to go inside for too long. That and it sounds good.
A woman asks me for directions to the subway, and I give them to her. Still got it! Not the knowledge, though I have that too, but the aura of Iknowhereshitis-ness.
The Upper East Side is a repository of bad fonts. Starting your own small business, especially a little botique on the Upper East Side, must be a taxing, expensive endeavor. So much so that by the time people reach the finish line, and it is finally time to hang their shingle out, or in this case, stretch an awning over the metal cage-like thing above the front door bearing the name of their newly minted dog-jacket store or cupcake wholesaler, they must be so exhausted that they actually collapse at the feet of the person designing their sign and wheeze, “Fuck it…COMIC SANS.” I hate to see you have a crap font on your fancy business. You look a mess.
I elect to walk down to Grand Central and catch the 7 into Queens. I am meeting lots of friends from drinks at The Creek to catch up and kibbitz. My iPod and I fall in love all over again. Air conditioners are still pissin’ on a dude, amongst the tony-est shit and the baby stores.
On the train to The Creek, where we used to run a weekly stand-up show, I feel like I should be running through jokes in my head. I don’t have any cause I’m not doing a show, so I run through hoary old Catskills jokes. You’re right, I think to myself, mother-in-laws ARE the worst!
I have a lovely evening with much-missed friends. Big shouts to Jessica (who is nominated for a fucking Emmy), Dyna (who is responsible for your precious Mad Men avatar and the wallpaper on my iPhone), Steve (who runs New York theater), Matt (who runs New York real estate), Emily (who made an entire album dedicated to Sub Zero that you can download here), Rebecca (proprietor of The Creek and pretty much the center of the scene), Rojo (my fucking heart from Florida), Chelsea and Chelsea (lovely talented Brooklyn-by-way-of-Arizona ladies who have been down since day one), Lee (who gets comedy like you never will and who you should hire to direct your show), and Becky (writer/literary critic/improviser/dinosaur enthusiast).
Back uptown, Dan and I talk shop and the sun comes up over the river, a heartbreaking beautiful thing. A police boat streaks across the water, complete with siren. I lower the blinds and go to sleep.
On Wednesday morning, I wake up early to get on a plane to New York. My iPhone alarm wakes me up and the word “Snooze” looks like a weird hybrid of other words. I get out of bed and my right arm is totally dead. Like, I can fling it around like a prop. I do this for a few minutes, and it takes about as long for it to stop being fun as it takes for my arm to come back to life.
The folks in front of and behind you in the airport security line are like this mini-high-school class. You will go through the same stupid trials as them, and then once it’s over and you’re out in the world, it is interesting to see where they end up. That willowy girl with the t-shirt bearing a slogan about life being a mistake without music- she ended up getting security screened? Who would have thought the eight-foot-tall man in business attire would end up purchasing Breakfast Foccacia at California Pizza Kitchen? Ending up on the same flight with somebody from near you in line at security is like going to the same college, up to and including you can still entertain the notion you might someday hook up with that person.
On the flight, the girl sitting in the window seat next to me wakes up when the beverage cart comes around and asks for an orange juice, then makes the exact same expression of barely masked disappointment any reasonable Western person would make after being handed a canned orange juice, then goes back to sleep, arms folded, orange juice can unopened, ice in the plastic cup melting into water in the sunlight coming in through the plane window.
You feel pretty shabby when you are on a flight that is going to end up in Paris but you’re only going as far as Philadelphia. Sure, you’re going to end up in New York, but it’s not like it’s Paris or nothin’.
The captain tells us Philadelphia is backed up and he has to do donuts in the sky for a while. I look at the local time on my laptop. It’s 4:40. My next flight boards at 5:15. This could get woolly. The descent into Philadelphia is an existential nightmare. It’s grey and interminable and everybody keeps coming over the loudspeaker to tell us how little they know. When we finally shamble into Philly and the time is announced, it becomes clear I’ve missed my connection, and I get really Zen and unhurried about everything.
In the terminal, I am told to go wait in a customer service line, at the front of which I will be told what flight I will catch to New York since I assume I’ve missed my connection. I do as as instructed. The line crawls. I look out on several rows of people seated, waiting for a flight. All their faces seem fixed on a TV I can’t see. I can’t determine if there’s really important news going on or if it’s just a general TV’s on-it’s-not-a-commercial transfixedness.
I look one of those banks of Arrival/Departure screens. One of the screens bears an error message: “Your computer’s clock is set to a date before March 24th, 2001. This may cause some applications to behave erratically.”
When I get up to the counter, the girl there tells me my flight, the one I was certain I’d missed, hasn’t actually left yet. She’ll back me up on the 8:30 but if I hurry maybe I can still make my original flight, now a good hour and a half past its original departure time. I am sort of mad at the guy who looked at information on my old flight and still told me to get in the customer service line and get a new ticket. I run down to where I can board a shuttle bus to the proper terminal. There is always something shame-faced and apologetic about a gleaming modern airport where the only way to get to the shiny glass wing of it where you need to be is via a dinky little bus that putters around the concrete where only planes are supposed to go. I kind of hurry on board the bus when it pulls up, but it won’t leave until the slowest passenger is on board, and I know that.
At the new terminal, the plane I thought for sure I missed has not even arrived at the gate. This is the flight I was supposed to be on all along, but because there was a little while there where I thought it was gone, I am thrilled at its delay, instead of the pissed I would be had my first flight been bang on time. Nothing that happens after that seems all that crazy or bad, like when a guy sitting in front of me who was just let in on standby is asked to get off the plane because it turns out it’s over its weight requirement, or when the plane taxis incrementally down the runway for an hour. It is no wonder we mostly want our movies to be light, frothy things. We get all the reality, all the mopey-foreign-film futility we need from air travel.
Before the little plane starts its death-march taxi, a girl in front of me and the woman next to me commiserate about the people they’ve just gotten off the phone with and how immature they are. The girl, her sister; the woman, her child’s father. The child in question is asleep on the woman’s lap. The girl in front of me is gate-friends with the standby guy who will end up getting kicked off. For now, they talk and she offers him chocolate. “No thanks,” he says. “My stomach…I’m kinda lactose intolerant.”
“Me too,” she says, “kind of!”
The flight attendant comes by to tell the guy his fate, and the guy and the chocalate-offering girl commiserate about how unfair it is until he is gone, at which point she puts a lot of her bags on his newly empty seat.
The flight is super-short and we are over New York in no time, and it is fully visibile. The rooftops of Queens are lit – all of them – with a dim glow, the glow from the clouds, the glow from everything. We get off the plane and I get psyched. There’s a Papaya King in the goddamn airport. It’s LaGuardia, the airport that was twenty minutes from my house when I lived in Astoria. I know how to get into town. I wait for the bus and listen to Jay-Z.
I end up heading into Manhattan to see School Night at UCB and say hi to folks. Summer smell of subway (my first New York memory), aggressive rap music in my headphones. If you could be buried in something other than coffins, I would want to be buried in this.
I am at the bookstore on Tuesday and there is a rack of AARP brochures by the register. There are big pamphlets on age discrimination, “grandparenting,” and other concerns of the 65+ set. If this says what I think it says about the average American book buyer, I should’ve titled my book “C-Nility: A New Approach To Doddering,” or maybe “Glaring Suspiciously At Televised Images Of Obama On Airport Televisions: We All Love It!” My other mistake, judging by a lot of other prominently featured books in the store, was not making my book about sisters, weddings, or sisters’ weddings.
On one block in my neighborhood: in a restaurant where it is usually just the staff sitting around watching “Hitch” on their HDTV, seventeen old guys sit around one table littered with food and wine glasses. They look connected, even if whatever they are connected to is dead or in jail. The kind of guys for whom there is an Old Country.
A guy sitting outside another restaurant says “I can put you on for sixty thousand dollars. Nine Eleven.” I know from rap songs that he is probably talking about the Porsche 911, but I still think there’s a chance he provides a very specific service to the wealthy eccentrics of Beverly Hills, bringing to their daughter’s birthday party a scale model of the World Trade Center which, on cue, collapses, the rising ash spelling out “Happy Birthday Marissa.” A service for which I would gladly pay sixty thousand dollars, provided I had the money and a daughter with a sense of humor.
Then, at the stoplight, a squat man in a white helmet on a white motorscooter. The scooter’s radio is playing “Funkytown,” the “gotta move on!” part.
A thing that will happen to you in LA is, you will go into a restaurant you don’t know anything about and you will sit down and realize it is a chain restaurant. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it shits on what you thought was a comprehensive knowledge of chain restaurants and their respective qualities. This happens to Megan and I on Tuesday night. Also, when we get seated, my seat in our booth has a rocking bottom cushion, like there is a secret chamber underneath. There probably isn’t. I don’t look.
A woman going up in the elevator with me at our building is wearing business clothes and carrying tons of bags and a rollerboard suitcase and I consider saying “Welcome back,” but then I think, maybe she’s not coming back from a trip, maybe she’s just coming home from work and that is all the stuff she has to lug to work every day.
I do not fully clean my room, because Rome wasn’t built in a day nor was it rid of all the dirty clothes that were all over the place, but I throw away the most offensive half-drank beverages and the tiny city of empty water bottles on my nightstand while listening to a podcast on multiple universes. (Radiolab! Google it, ya heard?) Did you know the guy who wrote “The Elegant Universe” believes that if you go far enough in any direction in the universe, you will encounter yourself again, exactly as you are in this moment, because there is only so many ways in which the elements existence is composed of can be arranged? The best thing he says, and of course I’m paraphrasing, is that this, and brain-creasing theories related to it, are not gee-whiz-wouldn’t-it-be-neat-if thoughts, as though science were a dorm room bong-encirclement, but are actually the seeming best explanations for the data we currently have. The idea that there is another you, lots of other yous, in fact, exactly like you, and not in some alternate dimension but here, in this universe as you know it, not to mention lots of other alternate yous, including Disco Yous and Prom Fantasy Yous and yous where you are the only living organism on that version of Earth, that is not only an explanation but the SIMPLEST, LEAST CRAZY EXPLANATION for observed phenomenon and recorded data. What?! There is a me somewhere in the universe that is not at all in awe of this.
Lying in bed on Tuesday night I for some reason think of a phase I went through in high school where I had a thing against “nice people.” I was fond of saying that I would rather someone be interesting than “nice.” What a douchebag! What a position of privilege! Kindness has a hard enough time in this world without people attacking it for being unsexy. Man it was great to have so little of substance going on that you had time for cool-sounding but essentially retarded opinions on human relations like that. If you are an adult and you still have time for half-baked reality-show-sound-byte “I’m the type of person where…” proclamations to make you sound callous and cool and unique, if you have time to subscribe to them in any way or form or fashion, I think you are not done yet and somebody should put you back in the Oven Of Personality. If your central tenet is not some variation on Let’s Try To Make Life Sane And Safe For Love And Fun And Not Be Jerks To Each Other, then I don’t know what you’re after and I don’t really want to.
I have this new spindle of blank CDs. I open it and it smells terrible. I guess it’s because it’s a cylinder of industrial chemicals hardened and cut up into slices, but still. Weird.
There are apartment building follies. This is not a surprise, because we live in what seems to be an old, bad building papered over, at least in the lobby, by mall-style fountains and flatscreens showing attractive people having “lifestyles.” Also, the building is run by, essentially, a couple of well-intentioned sorority girls. A couple of weeks ago one of the elevators fell (admittedly not far) to the bottom of the shaft and stayed there. Since then they’ve worked sporadically. We all received a memo under our door apologizing at length for the elevator drama, attributing it to the fact that the elevators were installed and renovated by two different companies and now the companies were blaming each other for the continued problems, and assuring us that a public meeting would be held at which representatives from both companies would be present. The authors of the letter felt very strongly that the representatives could not lie or blame each other once they were face to face in the same room, and that the truth would surely out. Meggie put it best when she said it seemed like said authors, the pretty-much-well-meaning-sorority-girls, used a thesaurus to smarten up every other word of the memo, like you would do when you were writing an essay in seventh grade and you had something to prove.
I install my newly acquired shower filter with my newly acquired wrench. It extends the showerhead a few more inches from the wall, and makes it hang a few inches further down, and it was already pretty low on the wall, so now I have to bow my head if I want to get it wet at all. For all its renovation by dueling blame-resistant companies, our building was very obviously originally built when everyone was four feet tall and indoor plumbing was new so they were cool with random jets of water shooting out of the side of their kitchen sink tap. They actually thought of it as part of the fun.
There is nothing like walking the aisles of a drugstore and suddenly the lyrics of the song playing over the store’s loudspeaker become clear to you, even though it’s a song you’ve heard hundreds of times over the years in grocery stores and dentists’ waiting rooms, but you never bothered to try and figure out what the lyrics to the hook were because it’s not a song you like at all. “Ah, they’re saying ‘My Father’s Eyes.’ It’s an epiphany that doesn’t get you anything.
You’re either a “Here Comes The Hotstepper” person or a “Return Of The Mack” person. I think you date “Here Comes The Hotstepper” but I think you marry “Return Of The Mack.”
On Monday night I take a deep breath and start cleaning our living room, which is still buried under all kinds of filthy Comic-Con prop packaging, and littered with other signs of cliché bachelorhood, like soda cups and Subway wrappers and things. Dominic comes out to help. I put the television on. At first it’s “Intervention,” the show that TV was invented for, the show so compelling and fucked up and wonderful it rendered the DVR in my old apartment in Queens essentially, for me, not so much a Digital Video Recorder as it was an Intervention Box. “Intervention” is followed by a show I haven’t seen called “Obsessed.” This particular episode of “Obsessed” focuses on a hoarder, a guy in North Hollywood who lives in his mother’s house, where she died of natural causes while he was taking care of her, and since then he hasn’t thrown away a single thing of hers, or anything, really, at all. More sad, compelling TV, and the irony of tidying up my own gross living space, which granted wasn’t gross for any pathological reason, just for reasons of laziness and busy-ness, wasn’t at all lost on me.
(Also, not that I could’ve anyway, but I really could not begrudge the guy his very intense pathology, because about a week ago I was finishing re-reading “True Grit” and as I neared the end I realized the last person who’d set eyes on the words was my mom, who is also not with us anymore, as she read me the book when I was a kid. I felt, for several minutes, reluctant to finish the book and replace her imaginary eye-tracks with mine.)
After fixing up the kitchen and living room, our apartment’s cleanliness level has been upgraded to “Crackhouse.” The crack part isn’t positive, but the ‘house’ part at least implies some kind of a structure. Which is admirable.
I don’t watch as much TV as I should for someone who works in “the business,” but when I do I am struck by the ethereal, terrible, awesome quality of infomercials shot in HD. Technology has made it very easy for things to look slick, and the ease with which slickness can be achieved has given some people with maybe not the best taste the mistaken impression that the cheap new slick is the same thing as good, and the result is some really unique-looking pop culture. The look of this time is really specific and kitschy in its own shiny, over-produced way, I don’t think we really realize it yet because we’re so bathed in it, but I kind of think (and hope, as somebody who part of their job is to parody stuff) this look will come to be the easy visual shorthand for…whatever this decade just was. Wholesome and too-bright and cheesy, kind of a strange new Fifties.
Before bed I read a really great blog post by my friend/excellent improviser/“Mystery Team” co-star Will Hines, which he has written to commemorate some classic UCB Harold Teams re-uniting for a one-off show in New York. (Harold Teams are the UCB’s house improv teams.) It is a great piece of writing. Will might be the poet laureate of improv. This should come as no surprise if he has ever coached your improv team: he diagnoses your problems in a way that makes the whole crazy endeavor seem noble, while still accurately hitting on how you fucked up, and how you can fix it. He’s also one of the best-ever New York improvisers, really really adventurous and versatile while still really really REALLY Will Hines.
Besides making me nostalgic, which is as easy as making fish in a barrel nostalgic, it also makes me a little bummed out that I was never one of those great teams. I was on a couple shaggy, lovable teams, but never one of the Greats. On the heels of reading Will’s post there’s a general feeling that it was A Time, and that time, for me, is probably over. This is followed by an awareness that not a whole lot of people got to be a part of that time, and I was one of them, and I am unbelievably lucky. As widespread as its influence has been and as huge as it has become, the actual amount of people who’ve been through the UCB system is still relatively small, and anybody who was there long enough to have a favorite team or moment or show is an enviable witness to and practitioner of an artform that’s still beautifully limited-edition.
How did CDs go from being an antiquated medium I was lugging cross-country out of guilt to my favorite way to consume music? I am a fan of the form again. Rare is the car trip for which I don’t see fit to burn an entire CD. My once-neglected CD wallet is now overflowing with sharpie-labelled discs named things like “Trip To Chipotle.” (That’s exaggerated, but barely.) Get in my car, CDs, and let’s go.
This newfound affection comes at the cost of learning that the CDs I did keep back when I didn’t have a reason to, I should’ve taken better care of. A lot of them have been jangling around loose and case-less for several dorm/dorm/apartment moves, and they are that teasing level of scratchy where you’re not sure if they’ll play, or won’t play, or will play up until halfway through track six, when they’ll start skipping, but you won’t realize this for several minutes because you’re talking to the person in the passenger seat.
I lost an iPod a few years back and with it a lot of un-backed-up music and Alecia made me a present of a Kleenex box full of burned CDs, whole albums, stuff I already liked and stuff I didn’t know and perhaps most appreciated, music by local bands whose shows we would go to all the time in high school. These Kleenex-box CDs are getting massive play in the Jetta. On Sunday I am listening to Fourbanger as I drive around. They are a Mesa band I don’t think is active anymore and in the day we saw them maybe fifteen times. Kind of a pop-punk Everyband, they wrote good songs and had great harmonies and two of the guys in the band looked exactly alike, I think because they were brothers.
I have discovered that I won’t be able to install my new shower filter with just my hands, so I buy a wrench in the hardware section of Target. After locating the proper wrench, I consider walking to the register through the lingerie section to see if the girly stuff will bubble outward around me, physically incapable of sharing the same space as my manfulness. I will not install the shower filter until that night, but I will spend a lot of the afternoon sitting on the couch playing with my new wrench, spitting it around, tightening and un-tightening it, tightening it as much as I can on my finger without permanently hurting myself, and generally reveling in my freshly purchased masculinity.
Jumping in and out of a hot costume on a hot day in Boston kind of gave me a cold and on Sunday I feel gross in a non-specific way, sort of chilly and jumpy. I feel like a joke about myself.
The elevator in our building always smells like the elevator’s mom would tell it to go back upstairs and wash off all that perfume. It is always different, the olfactory ghost of the last woman in the elevator, or at least the last woman who would be referred to as “trouble” in certain circles.
I don’t think I like soda anymore, but I like fountain soda, or moreover, I like fountain soda as a medium for lemons and limes. Order me the biggest soda they have and fill it halfway with squeezed-out lemon and lime slices, then fill the rest with diet cola, and you will have yourself a friend for life, and that friend will have to pee pretty bad in like an hour.
I find an index card on the ground, and on it, the following is written: “Wavelenght (sic) Lambda – the length of the sound wave unit: mm, cm.” I am worried that this card may have blown off the back of the Science Truck, and without this critical bit of information, scientists will be unable to complete their experiment. Maybe it will prevent them from determining something important, like the distance from Earth to the next universe over, in lihgtyears (sic).
I will step out of chronology here for a second to say something about my Aunt Jane’s dog. We are in pretty constant communication through e-mail and she recently told me that her dog Henry is sick and probably on his last legs. This is bad news for all of dog-kind, and, since they are our best friends, by extension bad news for humankind as well. Henry is, to my mind, kind of the ur-dog, the template. When you think “dog” in the classic Americana sense, as in, bringing you your pipe and slippers and then curling up at your feet in front of the fire, you are thinking of a dog like Henry, and where most dogs fail to live up to this mental picture we have of what a dog is like, Henry doesn’t. He is loyal and sweet and not overly dumb though not undoggishly clever. He would very much like to be petted. He would very much like to catch that ball you threw. He would very much like to be your friend. In short, he makes other dogs look bad, like either whiners and fakers and purse-bound accessories or like too-macho rap-video props overcompensating for the fact that they no longer live in the wild. If and when he goes, he will go down in my personal history as a dog that, had he been born earlier, could easily have brought frontierspeople news that their kid had been snakebitten in time for them to do something about it, but instead belonged to my aunt and uncle and cousin here in modern times and was content in simply being a good dog every day.
On Saturday afternoon, Megan and I are walking in Marina Del Rey. We see the world’s saddest dog run, a fenced-in dirt area of maybe four square feet. You would like to think that maybe you are interpreting the sign wrong and it’s really saying that the whole rest of the world is a dog run, everything except this little depressing part, but you know that’s not the case. We also see lots of boats with pun names. The only one I remember, because it rules, is a boat called Kelpless. (I would like to start a boat-naming service called Believe It Or Nautical, or maybe more aptly, Names For Sail.)
That night we join Dan and Meggie at the New Beverly for a midnight screening of a longer cut of “Gremlins.” It is part of a screening series curated by Joe Dante and the man himself is going to be presenting the movie. I am deeply enjoying the film community here in LA. It seems like something cool is always playing somewhere nearby for not very much money. With very few exceptions, every movie theater I’ve entered here is not a standard multiplex. It’s either a luxury shrine to the moviegoing experience (Big shouts to the Arclight) or a cozy ramshackle shrine to the moviegoing experience. The New Beverly is the latter.
Whenever I buy a movie ticket, I should either buy it with my credit card from a wall-mounted kiosk that will conclude our near-instant transaction by showing me an image of a clean-cut fictional theater employee named CHAD who reminds me to buy popcorn, or I should buy it with cash at a little window from an actual dude who looks like if he isn’t working here he should be working at a record store or a video store, just as long as he’s never working a job that doesn’t allow him to opine at length about the respective merits of pieces of art and people’s “early works.” I either want the quick, faceless experience or the tumbledown, human, faced one. I get the latter at the New Beverly. Tickets don’t go on sale until an hour before show time. Everybody is milling around in no line at all underneath the marquee. It’s so great.
Before the movie, as people filter in, trailers for movies, or short films, or experimental kook-reels, it’s hard to tell exactly what because they’re so nuts, are playing. They all seem to be by the same guy, Damon Packard. One movie features a guy in a fat suit falling down a lot on the streets of Los Angeles. One is a sword-and-sorcery epic with lots of elves and underaged women being chased through the woods. Drug use is a theme. One trailer features a credit reading“Tripod and special assistance by Chad Nelson.” The sword-and-sorcery epic has a character called “Queen Orb.” They’re uniformly the sorts of things Black Moth Super Rainbow plays behind them on a screen in concert, the sort of thing that could play on a loop at a party and at first you’d think “How cool and trippy” and then later you’d be more intoxicated and the night wouldn’t be going so well and you’d think “Someone needs to turn that off.” The trailers’ audio seems to be playing at low volume alongside the theater’s between-shows house music, and this adds to the creeptastic effect.
Joe Dante is wonderful. He kind of looks like Morrissey, or like a movie pirate. He says that this is print is longer but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better movie. He says it’s the print that screened for a test audience in San Diego who ended up loving the movie, which in turn convinced the studio that maybe this weird dark Spielberg-produced puppet Christmas movie they had wasn’t a total loss. (It wasn’t: it was a huge success.) And then the movie starts, and a little title card comes up saying the movie is a “work in progress,” et cetera, I guess the exact same title card the test audience saw. It is pretty cool that this is the exact same physical length of film they spooled up twenty-five years ago, the first time the movie was seen by a real-people audience.
“Gremlins” and its batty sequel were really important movies for me growing up. They were madcap and myth-y and just the right amount of scary. I had a stuffed Gizmo that was my favored possession for a long time. My mom had sewed me a pouch for him to sleep in. The Gizmo-pouch combination, this was Show and Tell dynamite, at least in my own mind. Of course with Show and Tell you confronted the dilemma of bringing something you really loved, something really personal, into the context of school, which was by its nature kind of grubby and many-handed and judgmental. I think Gizmo survived.
A lesson I have learned from movies that I maybe learned first from “Gremlins:” If you want to intimidate someone, turn on some creepy media. If they are alone in the house, and you really want to terrify them but you don’t yet want to reveal yourself, flip on the television or put on a record. Cheery media functions particularly well. It won’t spoil the mood, in fact, it will ironically enhance it for being a happy optimistic thing employed for devious ends. Besides, few people are going to have horror-movie music on their turntable already. Ideally the media is played on a format where, when the person you are intimidating comes out into the living room, looks around suspiciously, and turns it off, it won’t switch right off, but will slow down and turn extra-creepy for a second before stopping entirely, leaving them in silence. Vinyl is good for this purpose, or an old television where the picture recedes to a tiny dot and there’s a kind of “bee-yoo” sound. If your intent is just to kill, then by all means, jump out and stab away. But for pre-murder spookiness, nothing beats a happy song in an empty house.
As we are filing out of the theater at something like two in the morning, I look up into the projection booth and I see a wall of I guess film canisters, all lit by a red light, intimate and a little forbidden, like all good booths and perches and nooks. There is whole lots of talk about the old-fashioned moviegoing experience dying out as people are able to replicate or surpass it in their homes with Blu-Ray and bitchin’ speakers. And that’s cool, but leave us this, please. It’s not hurting anyone, and it’s helping some of us immensely.
On Friday afternoon I am using the wireless at this chain restaurant near us called Corner Bakery. I attempt to put up a new post on this site. A warning comes up telling me dcpierson.com is blocked because it falls into a “Forbidden category,” and in this case, that Forbidden Category is “gambling.” I am honored that my literary risks and verbal feats of derring-do have gotten this site classified as “gambling” by the good folks at Corner Bakery. Let’s put it all on black, shall we? (“Black” in this case is self-deprecation.)
My new shower filter arrives in the mail. New York has some of the best tap water in the world. In Los Angeles they purify the ground water with the shattered dreams and poisoned hopes of a million would-be stars. It’s really effective but it makes your skin dry and fills your hair with crippling regret.
Meggie got a car. Dan has outfitted it with a GPS, chosen after much deliberation, that not only does all the space-age things your average GPS unit does, but also has DDR-style arrows that show you what lane you need to be in to make the turns it commands. If you let him, Dan will reveal to you features you never knew your GPS had. Did you know it will direct you to the nearest operahouse? It will. It will critique the opera, too, in its robotic British-woman voice.
In her new car, Meggie drives us to the movies. We have a lot of time to kill before the show starts so we post up in a “gastropub” next to the theater. There is a tennis tournament playing on the bar’s televisions. During a commercial break, there is a commercial for a certain brand of tennis strings. I presume this commercial pretty much only plays during tennis events. In fact, it would not surprise me if, given the fact that the commercial plays so rarely, instead of pre-recording it they do it live every time. I like to imagine a stage manager counting “three-two-one” on her fingers while exaggeratedly and silently mouthing the numbers, before cuing words like “performance” and “tension” to go careening across the screen.
This restaurant seems to be the nexus of the universe. We see many film friends, including Devin of CHUD and BenDavid, of screenwriting. Devin recommends a beer to me. Later, I will drink it and it will be good. After that beer, I will order a different beer based on its name, which I find to be funny and interesting. I will soon learn that a more accurate name for this beer would be “Fishtaste.”
On the balcony, big muscled-out dudes in bandanas are enjoying glasses of wine. I think they are enjoying thinking of themselves as contradictions. I think most of what muscular people in bandanas do, they do because they think it will strike other people as a contradiction.
LA is like living in the Death Star. Sure, it’s the enemy, but it’s the enemy HQ, so it’s the enemy at their most classy and opulent. In short, they throw great parties.
Inside the movie theater, there is lot of really beautiful humanity going on at the concession stand. A seven-foot-tall guy with a big black afro pick in his hair is joking with a guy who has a no-fooling Mohawk (not the kind worn for gimmickry by R&B singers in music videos, we are talking post-apocalyptic biker-gang Mohawk) and ALSO has a spiderweb shaved into the non-Mohawked part of his scalp. Every person here I could imagine in a police lineup in a James Ellroy novel, and one of them would unfairly go up for the crime even though it was actually committed by a corrupt lieutenant or a Castro operative.
We are leaving the parking garage after the movie and we think there’s a fight going on for a second, but then it just turns out to be some male friends horsing around. Don’t you hate it when a fight is fake? And they always are. In 2010 I think we as a society should commit ourselves to having more real street fights. They are entertaining as shit. I demand more collisions between roided-out cologne-machines.
The cab driver that picks me up at four-thirty on Thursday morning to take me to Logan airport owns his own cab company. He says I wouldn’t believe some of the things he’s seen and I ask him to tell me the craziest thing that’s ever happened. He describes a time a few years back when some drunk college girls flashed him and made out with each other in lieu of payment. “You know how college girls are,” he says. “Anyway, I ended up marrying one of them.”
He also tells me how he plays the Facebook game Mafia Wars. He spent five grand on in-game attributes and is now something of a heavy, and other players message him to beat up on players who’ve wronged them. He writes the whole game off as mostly something to do when he’s stuck at the computer filling out quarterly reports.
On the first leg of my flight, I am dreaming about meeting the Obamas when I am awoken by lightning bolts of sinus pain. I get these headaches a lot of times when a plane starts descending. I always know before anyone else that we’re starting to land. It’s like a really shitty superpower: “We’re not yet halfway to our destination! Terrorists must be bringing the plane down! I can’t fight them because I am incapacitated by this crippling headache, but hopefully my unpleasant seizure-like writhing will disgust and distract them and they’ll forget their original mission!”
I expected to be beyond exhausted thanks to the previous day’s long hours and physical exertion but I feel okay. It’s almost as though exercise were good for you.
In the bathroom stall at the Charlotte airport, the toilet paper dispenser has four toilet paper rolls arrayed in a circle. It looks like the barrel of a Nerf gun I used to own.
My next flight is boarded by a multi-ethnic cadre of tiny well-put-together young women with sunglasses, knit hats, and babies. The babies are also predictably well-put-together. Well-dressed babies don’t cry as much on flights, right? Great!
I like it when couples have reached that point in a relationship when one of them has said to the other one, “Honey, this is going great and I feel secure enough in our love that I think we can both start dressing like assholes.” Then they both nod emphatically as they begin tying bandannas around their necks.
You know when you see a little kid, and you want to say, “You’re hitting the whole ‘little kid’ thing a little hard, little kid?” There is one of those little kids on this flight. He is flying alone and saying precocious things to the woman sitting next to him. I am flying alone and not a single person thinks I’m cute or clever because of it.
Over the shoulder of a woman a few rows in front of me I read a magazine headline and think it says “(Some Starlet’s) Hourly New Hookup.” I look again and it actually says “Hunky New Hookup.” This is less interesting to me.
The plane lands and everyone watches their cellphone’s switching-on animation for a little while.
As we disembark, the flight attendant standing by the door saying “bye-bye” to everyone wings a “so long” in there. I understand why. In fact I’m surprised she doesn’t switch it up more often to keep from going nuts. If saying goodbye six hundred times a day was a huge part of my job, I’d be on to obscure Swahili farewells by now.
I am waiting for my car at the lot where I parked it. It’s also a car rental agency and a mom and her three boys are waiting for their rental car to come around. The mom is pointing a camera at one son who isn’t paying attention. She has had enough of him not paying attention so she shouts, “(Her son’s name!) Over here!”
“What?” Mom says. “You said you hate it when I make you pose!”
“That IS making me pose!”
She says he cannot blame her, because she is going to take pictures of everything on this trip. She indicates that she is going to take a picture of the rental-car attendant. She indicates that she is going to take a picture of me. She calls me “that guy.” I smile.
At home, I take a nap before attending a screening of “Moon” at the Arclight where the director is going to do a Q&A. I wake up from my nap an hour before the screening and make it on time during rush hour and even stop off to get coffee, because my LA driving game is irreparably on smash at this moment. People who don’t always feel either impossibly behind or totally in control, I don’t think they’re properly balanced. Music probably doesn’t sound as good to them.
Hey jerks, please enjoy the "Mystery Team" short film we made for Comic Con, "Mystery Team Adventures: The Case Of The Haunted Hotel."
If you like it, please tweet/Facebook/forward it on to friends and family members and such.
Route One, the highway the hotel is on, or this part of it anyway, is a strip lined with every chain establishment in America. It is unfathomable. Shiny and neon and staggering. Chains you forgot existed, or were pretty sure went out of business after seven Thai tourists were killed by rancid onion rings Chains you thought were ficitional and made up only to be jokes in Eddie Murphy movies. The chains you do recognize are in their finest form. McDonalds is held up by glowing yellow arches. It is like they are showing off for one another. Is Route One the Big Leagues for chain stores? Are you not really a player until your chain has a storefront with a big gaudy sign on Route One? Is it the chain-store equivalent of the Prom?
I have decided this hotel is haunted. It’s renovated and everything but underneath all that you can tell it’s old and the ceiling is lumpy and strange and it’s on a big hill, a kind of monolith, and it has that its-own-organism feeling. It’s not new. Nothing new is haunted.
On Wednesday I have to wake up not just early for me by my skewed standards of earliness but actually legitimately early. The sun is a red ball on a misty horizon. It looks swampy outside.
On set, the nice hair lady gives me some scalp advice. It’s different than the advice I was given by Kimmy, the stylist who cut my hair earlier in the week, but it seems equally sound. This scalp is like a promising kid from a bad neighborhood. Everybody is worried about it. They want to see it succeed.
I wore my new white sneakers to set. The set is a cul-de-sac ringed with lots of muddy construction sites. The pristine white sneakers were a total inexpert move. I’ve also forgotten to bring my phone. If you have never been on the set of a movie or television show or a porno half-heartedly masquerading as a student film, I will share some insider knowledge with you: checking your phone is the official sport of being on set. It is the done thing. Presumably being here is the culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice on the part of everyone present, from the actors to the director to the producers to the technicians and PA’s, and now that we have achieved our childhood dream of being on an actual MOVIE SET, we cannot wait to demonstrate, via periodically withdrawing our phones from our pockets and text-messaging on them, that we wish we were somewhere else. I do not have my phone the whole morning before my scene, so I have to stand behind the monitor and be interested and things.
My buddy Eugene, who was nice enough to let me sleep in his spare bed, is going back to New York tomorrow, by car, and I’m very jealous. I am exhausted and the prospect of a full night’s sleep followed by a quick jaunt back to a summertime New York as opposed to a plane trip (with a connection in North Carolina) back to Los Angeles at the ungodly hour of six AM seems way, way appealing. I wish there was a motivational rap lyric that would resolve this particular longing for me.
But I do need to be at Logan the next day by five AM at the latest and there is no fighting it. I had heard tell of some sort of shuttle to the airport, but when I tell the guy at the hotel desk what time my flight is, he laughs off the idea of me taking the shuttle and offers to call me a cab that will come at four-thirty in the morning. I accept his offer. As we’re talking, a bus stops in front of the hotel and people of every race, creed, and color come pouring out. It is like one of those second-grade classroom wall-hangings depicting people from every nation in their native garb holding hands around a happy planet Earth, if they were three-dimensional and pouring off a double-decker bus, tired and hungry. The guy is staffing the desk solo and without missing a beat he hands the woman who seems to be in charge of all of these people a brick of room keys, calls a pizza place for them, takes care of a Spanish-speaking white guy’s issue, and calls me a cab. Bless his unflappability.
Later, as I’m about to go to sleep, I will call downstairs and ask for a wake up call for four AM. I will be talking to the guy from the desk from before and he will say “Wow, that’s early.”
I get up early on Tuesday morning because I am taking a very early flight to Boston. I am going there to shoot a small part in a movie. Something that always gets to me is, I can wake up very early and it will still not be early enough to make an insanely early flight without me rushing and running and fastening my belt on the jetway after removing it to get through security. In my head, I always assume that anything anybody is doing at this hour, they’re doing with a laid-back “fuck it” kind of attitude, and the flight will leave when it leaves, so take your time getting here, dude. The annoying thing is, airlines aren’t like that at all. They do not take “this flight is at seven AM” to mean “this flight will meander into the sky shortly after DC gets here, which could be like eight-ish.”
Tuesday morning is one of those times. I have arranged to park my car at this lot where they look after your car for the duration of your trip and shuttle you to your terminal, and then shuttle you back when you return, and then they pull a nice, un-broken-into, un-exploded car around. By the time I pull into this lot, it is maybe twenty minutes before my flight starts boarding. I give my keys to a dude, and he fills out a form, and I ask him where the shuttles are, and he points to the curb behind us, where a shuttle van is idling, with no driver inside of it, and no passengers. I get on this shuttle and writhe impatiently for a few minutes. Then I get off, and a guy in a tie standing outside says, “We’re leaving soon.” I get back on. I watch the guy walk over and talk to another guy in a tie. I assume their conversation is urgent. It looks like it could be urgent. I keep checking the time on my phnoe. I look up. Their conversation looks less urgent now. Casual, even. Then they take a good thirty-second break from their conversation to look at a girl’s ass as she walks by. I step off the shuttle again. The first guy in the tie looks up and says “We’re leaving now.”
All songs on the shuttle’s radio manage to be about travel. “Cruisin’” which contains the words “You’re gonna fly away.” “I’ll Take You There,” which is pretty self-explanatory. “Hey Jude” breaks the spell. It does mention “movement,” but it claims that the one I need is on my shoulder, so it doesn’t really count.
The airport is a maze of unmoving lines. An epic war between man and machine, and between man and other man who doesn’t understand how machines work. I underestimated LAX and it punished me. I despair multiple times. There is no way I should make it to my flight but I do somehow. Once there, I sit and enjoy being on the plane for a second. I should not be here but I am. You can be a moron if you want and a lot of times Western civilization will just carry you along wherever it’s going and you’ll be fine.
I sleep for most of the flight but for a little while the plane’s monitors provide an unexpected opportunity to watch music videos, albeit with no sound. I am proud of myself for knowing enough of the words to “Knock You Down” to follow along. (Ahh, this is where Ne-Yo says “I used to be commander-in-chief of my pimp shit flying high.” Hey, look, Kanye’s “fly off into NASA” lyric is illustrated with stock footage of the space shuttle launching! How literal.) The video’s story turns out to be a love triangle between Kanye and Keri Hilson and Ne-Yo. This is disappointing. I had hoped it would be Kanye and Keri being in love and Ne-Yo would just serenade them for the video’s duration. I understand that isn’t much of a “story,” but I want what I want.
I get off the plane in Boston and decide to get lunch in the airport because I’m starving. They have Poland Spring here! Poland Spring is the official water bottle of truthsayers and lightbringers. I get a tuna salad sandwich. I always eat tuna salad in airports, because I don’t fear the reaper.
Fan of public transit that I am, I elect to take the T, which I am reasonably certain is some kind of subway system, but I’ve never ridden it before and I haven’t seen it yet, so it could easily be a couple well-trained giant birds. I ask a girl working an information booth what train will take me near Brighton, where my friend Lauren’s house is, where I’ll be staying. Her name is Olivia and she is extremely nice, but she cops to not knowing what train I need, and turns to her computer to look up the info, and then says the computer is very very slow, and apologizes. Eventually she tells me what train it seems like I should take. She says it’s a bit of a walk. I don’t mind, I have an afternoon to kill and I’ve never been to Boston (or its surrounding environs) before. Olivia points me toward where I will wait for a shuttle bus that will take me to the train.
Disembarking the shuttle bus, a short Asian girl drops her beat-up aluminum water bottle underneath the bus without realizing it. A guy my age who has a blonde moustache and is wearing white slacks and a seersucker blazer and a straw fedora, dressed basically how Truman Capote used to dress and how even Truman Capote would probably agree it might not be a good idea for modern young guys to dress, especially when they are not in the band Vampire Weekend, that guy gestures at the water bottle with a poster tube he is holding. The girl picks it up and moves on.
The train is crammed with commuters. It is nice and surreal, standing on the squeaky circle of floor that connects two train cars, which constantly shifts a little beneath our feet. We pass a stop that claims to provide access to the Boston Public Library, a library dedicated entirely to the show “Boston Public.” I am thinking a lot about David Foster Wallace, whose book “Infinite Jest” is the source of my most recent and richest Boston associations. The guy standing next to me is reading an e-mail from someone named DAVID FOSTER on his iPhone. “David Foster” is probably a pretty common name but I don’t let that stop me from being jazzed by the coincidence.
At one point the conductor comes over the loudspeaker and says the train will unexpectedly be going express. He punctuates this announcement by saying, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” I love workaday schtick. I love this. A lot of commuters laugh and I am one of them. But he will eventually lay it on too thick by getting greedy and adding increasingly unfunny ad-libs to his repetitions of this announcement, and I will turn against him.
I get off the train where Olivia told me to get off, and the GPS on my phone makes it clear that I’m very far from where I need to be. There was a train stop that would’ve gotten much closer, but no worries, Olivia, you were doing the best you could with what you had. Anyway, it’s a lovely walk through lush suburbs as the sun is setting. It’s hot and humid, weather makes me nostalgic for summer in New York. I didn’t grow up with it and heat like this is still novel to me, sticky as it is.
I detour through Boston College’s campus, because there is no college campus that doesn’t fascinate me for no reason. I approach a cluster of neat old buildings through some low-slung wooden campus housing, with empty dorm furniture stacked in the windows. The wind whispers “alcohol poisoning.” Further along and up some stairs, there are true old stone academic buildings next to modern parking structures and classroom buildings meant to mimic the style of those old structures, and then some buildings from it looks like the Sixties, the era when college architects seemed to say, “These kids are protesting our wars and putting flowers in the barrels of our guns and we’re gonna give them something NICE to look at? Bump that noise!” And bump that noise they did, via grey utilitarian hellbuildings.
It is not worth going into here, but it ends up making more sense for me to stay at a hotel close to set, where my friend Eugene who’s in the movie is also staying, and Lauren is sweet enough to drive me out after she gets home from work. I am deliriously tired by the time I get to the hotel, which makes the conversation between three dudes at the hotel bar I overhear as I sit nearby and bolt down a club sandwich four or five times as funny. It concerns one of the guys going to the acupuncturist, and the other two guys not being able to believe he went to the acupuncturist.
“It’s trippy. You see colors,” he says. “She was puttin’ things in my arm.”
“Or…your…DICK,” one of the other guys says. The other other guy asks when he last went to this acupuncturist.
“I hadn’t had any beers.”
“What time, is all I’m sayin’.”
The first other guy will skeptically inquire, “You’re saying the you from today is different from the you last week?”
Later, the other other guy will say, on a different subject: “The more I can get my wife to submit, the happier I am. And I have a deadline. 48 hours to submission.”
Soon afterwards I will go upstairs and fall asleep in the extra bed in Eugene’s room.
Early Monday morning I go to put air in my tire. Numerous people have looked at the tire I looked at and thought “Hmm, could be getting flat” and they have said things to the effect of “That is the flattest tire we have ever seen.” I go to a gas station down the street. The air hose in the self-service spot isn’t dispensing air so I pull around to a full-service spot. The attendant comes out and I tell him my deal. He looks at the tire in question and says, “That’s pretty damn low, bro!” He fills it up and checks my other tires and I’m on my way, the car’s undercarriage parallel to the road surface instead of comically askew.
I have my first LA audition later that morning and I go by Kinko’s to print out the sides. (Attn: my grandmas who read this website: Sides are the pieces of script you read at an audition.) For some reason I am expecting Kinko’s to be swarmed with my fellow actors doing the same thing, but the computer area is empty except for me and a girl. I take the opportunity to judge my fellow actors for not being as hard-working or up as early as me, but probably it just means they have printers at home. The girl is on her phone. “These Jpegs I’m sending you,” she says, “can you cut out her face?”
While I am getting coffee I see the SUV I saw the other day that has its entire grille ripped off, including the headlights, but still gets driven around. It continues to be ominous. The fact that the whole car is white and the cavity where the grille and headlights should be is black add to the effect. It’s like a skull with wheels.
The audition is at a casting office in Santa Monica. There is a “mommy & me” class next door, the kind of thing where moms dance with their babies, and the music is pouring through the wall. It’s a techno remix of “Popcorn,” then there are actual live bongos being played, and then some kid classics like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” We all empathize with the receptionists who have to sit there and listen to that stuff all day and still manage not to murder themselves or others.
If you needed to make a replica of an Easter Island head, you could do worse than the top part of a water-cooler jug. That would at least get you the eyes and part of the nose.
After the audition I drive by the ocean ‘cause I can. I think Santa Monica might have been the pilot for California that got it picked up for whole-stateness. It contains all the hooks of California, gets the premise across. They looked at the beach and the sky and the low-slung candy-colored buildings and said, “Yeah, we can get a state out of this.”
Later that day I go and get a long-delayed haircut. (I had a bowl-cut for the “Mystery Team” short and could’ve gotten a haircut for a couple of weeks but didn’t for no reason.) I go to the salon where they reluctantly gave me the bowl-cut in the first place. My stylist is Kimmy. As she is undoing my stupid haircut, she won’t stop giggling about it. It’s like with every cut or comb-stroke she uncovers some new illogical configuration of hair that is ridiculous, that she would never do in a million years. I can’t blame her and I tell her not to apologize. I am not one for talking a whole lot while getting my hair cut but while I’m sitting there, she solves like six of my biggest personal problems. No joke. The whole talking-to-the-person-who-is-cutting-your-hair thing, I get it now.
A modern dilemma: Knowing you have an app on your iPhone that could identify the song that is playing and the desperate sudden need to know what it is and the feeling that it will be awkward to take out your phone there in the stylist’s chair and the suspicion that it might just be the awesome whiff of some great-smelling beauty product you just got that is making this song seem like the answer to all life’s questions.
They sell me on a product to make my hair tastefully mussed, because it is a cold sad but accepted truth that hair that is artificially messed up will probably look better more consistently than hair that is actually, honestly messed up. I leave the salon, little bag swinging from my arm, feeling quite gay, and therefore, in a good mood. Stuff that is considered gay usually puts me in a good mood, because stereotypically, gay people enjoy life-improving things I would never think to do myself. Then I go buy shoes! New almost-all-white sneakers. I like shoes where it’s kinda fucked up how white they are. I like the experience of them being pure and white for a while and then turning around one day and they’re tarnished and grey and saying “How did you get like this already?” I look forward to having the same experience with my children one day.
I dare you to dispute me: If I get coffee from two different places, I haven’t gotten coffee twice in one day.
The day’s theme is brought to a thrilling crescendo when, while getting coffee from the second place, I am, I’m pretty sure, propositioned by an old dude. I am sitting at a table behind my laptop and I look up and this older gentleman in a white polo shirt makes the classic eighth-grade “blowjob” gesture at me. (It’s the one that involves a fist and putting your tongue in the side of your cheek.) It’s a mellow, classed-up version of this gesture, as subtle as that kind of thing can be, but it’s there. He probably can’t help but notice that I look directly into the ground, way embarrassed for all of us, then start laughing to myself and writing furiously in my notebook. I guess what I’m trying to say is, the new haircut is WORRRRRKKKKINGGG!!!
(Coda to the theme of the day: later, that night, Dan and I are standing on the balcony when two middle-aged men in matching black tracksuits with two yellow stripes down the side go roller-skating down the middle of our street.)
Things I want very much: To be European, the kind of European where I can wear short shorts and a tank top that is two neon colors and have a haircut we in the States don’t even have a name for, popularized by a soccer player who is unknown here but is more famous in Italy than Jesus is in America. I also want to be a collector of doo-wop and girl-group records. I hope the two are not mutually exclusive.
I see a girl wearing open-toed shoes with thin leather straps that run all the way up to her knee, like a gladiator. Are attractive women going to start dressing like this? Because this is going to confuse fratboys whose love for the movie “300” is largely and subconsciously homoerotic. This is just going to confuse the hell out of them.
After only reading maybe one full book since moving to LA, I have read two in the last week. Lesson: read pop-culture memoirs instead of obscure and lengthy allegorical novels I aspire to like but don’t really.
Some days I am the recipient of mail. Other days I am just the courier of coupons and menus and things addressed to “Smart Shopper” and people who used to live in my apartment from the mailbox to the little ledge where everybody else puts junk like this.
With your eyes open, they are just an aging couple in the same elevator as you speaking quietly in French. With your eyes closed, it is a scene from a sexy foreign film where two people just fucked who weren’t supposed to and neither one of them has gotten up to turn the bedroom lights on yet.
Dan and Meggie and Dominic and I put this dinner thing off way too long considering it is Sunday night. It is like we are a down-in-the-mouth tramp looking for work in the first part of a silent movie: everyone is slamming doors in our faces. We end up at IHOP, where the staff is wearing Hawaiian attire to celebrate some Hawaiian-motif pancakes they are offering. “The Bodyguard” is on TV, in Spanish. Or we can assume it is in Spanish: the sound is off but the Telemundo logo is floating in a bottom corner of the screen. None of us have ever seen the movie, but at one point Whitney Houston is performing in a robotic get-up that would not be out of place in a Kanye show, and at one point Whitney is flirtatiously playing with a samurai sword while Kevin Costner drinks on a couch. “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton comes on whatever radio station is playing throughout the restaurant. This was always a Prom song at my school and I could never figure out why, because we were all teenagers and it was the early 21st century and I think we would have missed the Vengaboys if they’d been left off the playlist, but not Eric Clapton. Apparently this was also a Prom song for Dan and Meggie and Dominic. Dan and Meggie also had “Stairway To Heaven,” which is also anachronistic, but still pretty balls-out.
Just outside of the restaurant, a big stick insect is making his way across the sidewalk. We stop and watch him for a minute. He moves his arms in an interesting pattern, like he is always about to fight you, or he is trying to get a crowd excited about techno music.
If a person in the book is the same age as me they immediately become a kid. Right now if you’re a character in a book and you’re described as being twenty-four, I immediately think of you as not an adult, and I am not impressed by you. Also, when I turn twenty-five in a few months, it will have felt like I was twenty-four for about forty-five seconds.
On Saturday afternoon I am about to do all kinds of grown-up responsible-person chores when Dan texts me to say he and Meggie are going to Counter (the burger place in Santa Monica where previously I had maybe one of the best meals of my life) and then to read on the beach. At first I say no, citing the chores, but then I think about it some more, and then I make a Summer Decision, a California Decision, a My Room Is In Such A Sorry State It Would Take The Mental Toughness Of A Military Interrogator To Even Approach Cleaning It Decision. I decide I will go. In the time I dithered Dan and Meggie have left already so I follow them out in my car.
I get a reasonably-sized burger this time instead of an absurd, offensively-sized one. It’s a good choice. The milkshake of choice continues to be peanut butter and chocolate combined, or as I call it, “A Hi-Five From The Universe Itself.”
I don’t have any cash and they don’t take cards (a lot of parking places seem to and I have gotten spoiled) but instead of forcing a ten-cars-reversing ordeal the lady says “You can park ten minutes and come back and pay me. Don’t make it longer.” I park and am going to get out and get money out of an ATM but my key won’t leave the ignition. It is part of this sort of flimsy black plastic nugget that is also the remote that unlocks my car. I curse the thing. I am not that strong but the whole thing feels very tenuous and I am afraid of breaking the key off in the ignition. The car won’t turn on, either. Dan calls to see where I am. I tell him what is happening. “That happens,” he says. “Sometimes you have to jiggle it…” Then I understand what is happening. The car is still in drive. Turned off, and in drive.
We lay out and read for a little while but before long the sun is setting and it’s getting windy and cold. Before driving back I enter a beachside port-o-potty and curl my toes up into my flip-flops.
That night I visit my friend who is in town on a business trip. She is staying at a nice hotel near Hollywood and Highland. It is one of those satisfying trips where I know more or less where I’m going so I don’t need GPS. As I’m driving there, I realize I have this weird affection for LaBrea, the street. I want to take it whenever possible, and I don’t know why. It doesn’t have prettier sights than streets of a similar width that take you in the same direction. I think it’s partially because it was the one of the first streets I knew things were on (like Target, a useful thing to know) and partially because of the name. LaBrea, like the tar pits. Consciously I know I will not see a dinosaur on LaBrea, but my subconscious is not willing to risk it. Take LaBrea, it says. Just take it.
The hotel lobby seems to be the epicenter of the kind of nightlife that doesn’t seem all that fun to me, namely the kind where heavily perfumed women on leather couches grind themselves into the kind of dudes you can tell take Entourage literally. By the elevator I will overhear a very tall woman whose hair is cut into a geometric shape say to her two male companions, “I just got the gnarliest gagger.” There is an argument about who is going to drive Dmitri’s car. Once two of the people are gone upstairs, the other guy shrugs at me apologetically. I feel like as douchey as a group of people are holding up the elevator, one is always embarrassed and apologetic, and that gives me hope.
Hollywood and Highland is like Times Square without the subtlety.
On Friday afternoon while I am sitting eating lunch I see what is, to me, for whatever reason, the most LA interaction possible: two guys have their backs to me. They are dressed in shorts and matching neon-green-and-blue Nike polo shirts that have soccer-team insignia. They turn to reveal they are both old and vaguely European. They engage in spontaneous sidewalk conversation with Penn from Penn & Teller if he had white man dreads, was four heads shorter, and was wearing sandals that looked like red leather belts wrapped nine or ten times around each foot. This false Penn is holding an enormous book, a little book, and a half empty water bottle with the label torn off.
I have been prescribed this heartburn medication. The bottle instructs me to take it “1 Hour Before Biggest Meal.” I want to ask the makers of this prescription: Have you been in modern life? Food or food-like substances are thrown at you at random intervals and you try to catch as much of it in your mouth as you can, and that is your nourishment. This is how it will be until they figure out a way to put nutrients in the air like cellphone signals. What’s all this foresight you think I have, wherein I know sixty minutes ahead of time how much food I will consume at any given time? I know this, and this is all I know: when I do eat, and it’s no guarantee that I will at all because I might forget entirely, but when I do, it will either be “an obscene burger I am eating mostly for the story” or “the closest thing they have to a salad.” And I won’t know which of those two it will be until I’m seated at the table, or standing outside the taco truck. What’s that, makers of this prescription? Wildly varying, almost post-human dietary habits such as these may have something to do with my gastrointestinal distress? No, fuck YOU.
I am looking at my IMDB page, because I am a narcissist as long as what I need to do to be a narcissist I can do sitting at my laptop, and I see that someone has left a comment to the effect of, “What is the deal with his haircut? It’s so bad. Is it for a movie or something?” I have been intending to get a haircut for a few weeks, since we wrapped the “Mystery Team” short and I no longer needed to have a bowlcut, but I hadn’t gotten around to it and probably should’ve prioritized it higher because, no fooling, my hair looks retarded. (See also: any photos or video of dude from Comic Con.) But I have a strange adolescent attitude towards my haircut and other people and their opinion of it. I will be aware I need a haircut for weeks at a time. I will have every intention of getting one and just not get around to it. I will be about to do it THAT VERY AFTERNOON and someone will say, “Dude, you need a haircut,” and then all of the sudden I will be bound and determined not to get one. To NEVER get one. To show them all! Because if they think they can just tell me things, as a friend, purely for my own benefit to keep me from looking stupid, well, they’re wrong. All ideas on how to take care of me must originate with me, even if they are bad ideas.
Except in this case, it’s not a trusted friend, it’s some random darsh on the Internet, so instead of getting stubbornly de-prioritized, getting a haircut immediately rockets back to the top of my to-do list.
I see an SUV driving around with its entire front grille ripped off, including its headlights. It is not even a hunk of junk. It’s a new-looking car, a Cayenne. Granted, it’s still daylight, so I guess it’s not dangerous, and maybe not even illegal, but it’s still unsettling. It feels like the car equivalent of seeing a guy whose eyes have just been gouged out walking around and waving to people like everything’s cool.
Our living room is a complete fuckshow. It was already a cliché unkempt-bachelor living room, and then we staged all the props for the cabinets in our Comic Con booth there, and that covered our pre-existing filth with prop filth, you know, filth with a purpose. A lot of the props were intended to give the impression of adults-only explicitness, so the packaging from said props really sends the entire thing into a different realm. Nothing will take an average dirty living room into “this is a crime scene that just hasn’t had a crime in it yet” territory like the empty box from a plus-sized blow up doll. Cleaning up my whole shit is on my to-do list for Friday, but I will not get around to it.
On Friday night, I am headed to a concert in Silverlake. A band whose album I love called Japandroids is opening up for a band called Future Of The Left. I walk up to my car in the parking garage and notice my left rear tire has a disturbing bump in it. Or at least it seems to. I think maybe it’s flat, or getting there, but I’m not sure. It’s not cartoonishly flat so I’m not sure there’s a problem. I am about as good at diagnosing car trouble as I am my own health problems, and I go through a lot of the same oscillating certainties, including being dead certain there is something really wrong, and dead certain everything’s fine. I am late as it is so I drive out on my getting-flat tire and nothing bad happens.
I park up in the hills because I can’t find parking near the club. I am nervous about driving in the hills because for the most part the streets seem to only be able to handle one car, and only a car from a hacky comedian’s joke about how small things are in Europe. I am nervous about parking, because there hardly seems to be any. Eventually, I find a space. There aren’t any don’t-park-here signs, and a shadowy figure on the porch of the house across from the space doesn’t say “don’t park here,” so I assume it’s fine.
I get inside the club just as the band before Japandroids finishes up. The drummer is mostly naked and halfway through the last song the singer ditches his guitar, takes the mic out of the stand, and goes full scream-o. I have no beef with this.
Japandroids is only two guys. They both sing, one plays electric guitar, one plays the drums. The singer-guitarist is winningly earnest and head-bangs a ton. The drummer is really really good, and even more impressive on songs where he takes lead vocals. They play catchy distortion-y songs that don’t have a whole ton of lyrics and are straightforward and earnest and mostly about being young, or excited, or in love, or in a band, or some combination of those things. On album they sound like an entire band and live they manage to sound that way too. It’s a good first LA concert.
Gassed on my first night out in a long time, I ambitiously decide to meet up with some friends we met at Comic Con who I have been texting back and forth with. I have to leave during Future Of The Left, though I buy their new record from their merch table. As I’m climbing back up the hill, I notice all the cars lining the street have their front tires pointed at the curb with near-military precision. Did I need to do this? I wonder. I can’t remember if I am parked on a street with an incline or not, but now I am remembering my car as parked on a very steep hill. In fact, now I am imagining my car on the steepest hill in California, and I am sure that when I come upon it, it will either be parade-float papered in parking tickets, or it won’t be there, because it is flaming in the bottom of a canyon it rolled into. The parking tickets will be floating around, little balls of flame buffeted by the car-fire’s exhalations. I will still have to pay them, because it is not like that little piece of paper is the only record the police have that they cited you.
Except the car isn’t either of those things. When I find it, it’s still parked on a level street, no tickets or anything. It takes me twenty-eight drive-and-reverse shifts to get out of my little spot, but I do. I drive off down the hill, and the rest of the evening is good like that.
I am walking in my neighborhood on Thursday when three nurses in Easter colors hop out of a car and proceed to gangbang a parking meter with their quarters.
I have to deposit some checks. I tried to do this a few days ago, made it part of a walk I was taking, only to find that the Chase I walked by was closed and didn’t have an antechamber full of ATMs like your modern bank would. The Chase I go to on Thursday has some ATMs, and they seem to be the ones like Chase has in New York, slick, sexy robot ATMs you can slide your checks into and they will read them and deposit them into your account automatically. But these ATMs don’t want to accept deposits, so I have to go inside and conduct my banking traditionally, by filling out a deposit slip and then standing in line staring at the head of the person in front of me and basically waiting for a guy to come in and wave a gun around and shout “You know what this is!”
I was really excited by the seeming preponderance of Chase banks in LA when we moved here but it seems like they all were Washington Mutuals until recently and the change over to Chase has been entirely cosmetic. The teller, who is very nice, explains this to me. It means it takes about as much wrangling to get the money into my Chase account as it would if I walked into a 7-Up bottling plant and said to the first person I saw “could you put this money in my account, please?”
In the course of doing my chores I will frequent a Chase bank and a Chipotle and a Kinko’s and a Starbucks. It’s a very old fashioned New York day. (And yes, I spent the entirety of my time in New York in the same four chain establishments they have everywhere. What ya know about it?)
Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” is playing over the mini-mall’s loudspeaker. It’s not my favorite song, but I don’t think I like any songs more than I like that song, if that makes any sense. Try it for yourself!
I am sitting in the Starbucks near our apartment building and writing for maybe the third day in a row when it dawns on me: I have become a Starbucks regular! I have become one of the very people I made a game of spotting and christening in my head when we first moved here. Now that I am officially a regular, I wonder what nicknames other regulars like Aging Frankie Valli and Homeless Hippie Jedi have for me! In his head, Aging Frankie Valli probably calls me “That Kid With The Sandy Duncan Cut” and Homeless Hippie Jedi probably calls me “uhhhuhmmmhgggghhhrrrrghgh” (For you see, he’s crazy, and therefore his thoughts are mush!)
In a moment of wonderful metatheatricality, I overhear Aging Frankie Valli (who is in the house, of course) reference Homeless Hippie Jedi in conversation with someone else. He refers to him as “that guy with the computer.” (One of Homeless Hippie Jedi’s outstanding characteristics, probably his biggest one, was he would lug an entire desktop computer into Starbucks with him.) It comes out in the course of conversation that Homeless Hippie Jedi is banned for life because he tried to smoke a joint in his little corner by the window. I had actually seen Homeless Hippie Jedi break up some weed and roll a joint on the surface of a free alt-weekly paper at one point. No one else seemed to notice or care so I just thought, “Huh. California.”
At one point driving back from some place I see a store that has a lengthy, Martin Luther-style sign posted on its door, which reads: “Denim Revival/Denim Doctors: Don’t be Fooled By The Sign Next Door! Denim Revival Is The Only Place With A Tailor From The Original Denim Doctors!” Wow! This sign describes a whole conflict I had no idea existed but is obviously very serious, at least to someone. A denim schism. Denim holy war. Exiled denim peoples wandering the wasteland. False denim kings. Deposed denim princes, long thought dead, returning to cleanse the bloodline, by steel if necessary, and also to get some studs on the back of their jacket in the shape of like a skull.
Dan and Meggie and Dominic and I go walking in our neighborhood looking for a place to have dinner. There is a street with a lot of fancy clothing stores near us and one of them is called Rock & Republic. I experience the phenomenon which scientists have identified but do not have a name for yet where you see something in real life that you have only previously heard in a song by the rapper Freeway. (“Went from sportin’ Rocawear to Rock & Republics/they don’t hug it but I think they fit my tool better.”) No one likes seeing things from rap lyrics in the real world as much as I do.
I always feel like people are creeped out by me in LA. There is no situation where I don’t feel like I am doing something wrong and everyone is noticing. Like I am vibrating at some pale, unmuscular frequency.
On Wednesday afternoon I go to do some ADR for an indie movie I was in in Michigan last fall, “Cherry.” (ADR is when you go back and re-record lines of dialogue for various reasons.) The studio is in a house an interesting part of town that, for all its mansion-sized homes, is not particularly ritzy. It is great to see the movie’s writer/director, Jeff, again. He is a true sweetheart, and it is fun to stand in a booth wearing fancy headphones looking at myself on-screen with a ridiculous haircut (I won’t be in your movie unless I get to have a ridiculous haircut). Memories of Kalamazoo in autumn come back fast. I got to meet a lot of cool people and nice kids and spend a lot of time in crumbling academic buildings, which are some of my favorite kinds of buildings. Also they put us up in a very nice hotel and at one point I ordered in a pizza and drank beer and watched “Ed Wood.”
ADR is a mix of fun and frustrating: in a lot of cases you are trying to say things exactly as you said them in the footage, so your onscreen lips will seem in-sync with what you’re recording. You curse yourself ten months ago and wonder how it was you got a weird extra breath in the middle of some word so you can reproduce it there in a present. Then, other times, you’re off-camera and it’s your job to throw in middlingly funny inconsequential ad-libs. I consider myself one of the top middlingly funny inconsequential ad-lib men in the business, so this is a treat. I finish up and head off to a doctor’s appointment.
There is a certain incredulity, a certain what’s-your-problem-ness to being in a car next to someone at a light. If we are next to each other at a light and I look over and catch your eye, nine times out of ten both of us will automatically think “What’s that guy’s problem?” I think this is because subconsciously we both realize that we are both putting on airs, none of us is really supposed to be piloting a large metallic creature. We are only able to get where we’re going as fast as we will get there because of someone else’s technical wizardry. We are not this fast or this powerful. If you’re in a car, evolutionarily, you’re frontin’.
I go to the Beverly Center to get some new jeans and a new belt. The Beverly Center is a strange place for humans to gather and exchange things for a number of reasons and if I were in college I would try to get a whole paper out of it but I’m not so I’ll just say, the paper lamps that hang above the glassed-in escalators and are visible from the street, they look like enormous floating multi-colored sphincters.
Going and buying new clothes is always kind of torturous because I am not a good dresser and I know that the problem is inside of me and no one new garment is gonna change anything. I don’t have no money. I have some money. I would like to dress better. But any one nice piece of clothing I feel like is a fresh faced new teacher at a shitty rundown school. It’s nice to think they will change things and inspire with their presence but probably they will be tarnished and subsumed by low standards and soon their once-beaming face will be just another part of the depressing dingy whole. I can’t take care of things. It is not within my power to take care of physical, non-imaginary things.
I pick out some jeans I like. In addition to some standard everyday-use skinny-but-not-future-offspring-endangering jeans I would also like to get some baggier lighter-colored jeans I keep referring to in my head as Kurt Cobain jeans. I imagine I will be able to wear these with some larger, ratty t-shirts and suddenly I will feel like Kurt Cobain. Then I realize I don’t want to feel like Kurt Cobain, as he probably felt terrible. I want to feel how Kurt Cobain looked, which is cool. But I can’t find the right ones, they just look too baggy and square, and not square in a cool way, just square in an Ocean Pacific way. These luxury jeans will have to wait. I have found utility jeans.
The new belt will be life-changing. For the past let’s say six months I have been employing what is, in essence, a hobo belt, a larger belt I cut down because I am small-waisted and added a couple of new holes to with a steak knife in my kitchen in Queens. The belt then gave me two options: so loose as to make the belt almost irrelevant, or so tight it was uncomfortable to sit down. And I employed this belt, and exclusively this belt, for something like six months. Maybe longer. Not because I didn’t have the money to buy a new belt. But simply because it never occurred to me to get a new one. Or, it did occur to me, just never at a time when I could act on it. If I had been fastening or unfastening my belt and thinking “Fuck, I need a new belt” a lot in the belt section of Macy’s, I probably would have gotten a new belt a long time ago. But that mostly just happens in my bedroom, and I can’t buy a new belt right there in my bedroom. The point is: I had a hobo belt for half a year and no one stopped me and said “get a real belt.” Think of what other transgressions might be possible. The mind reels. That girl you like’s bra might secretly be made of Twizzlers.
The fan in my bathroom that turns on automatically when the light turns on had been shrieking like a banshee. Now that I have returned from Comic Con, it has started barking like a hellbeast. I am one of the world’s leading readers of books in the bathroom before showering, so this is really cramping my style. There is also a heat-lamp, but it isn’t near as bright as the light that comes with the fan that is accompanied by the baying of a Satanic hound. Combine all this with how steamy it is from the shower and I am always shocked I emerge from the bathroom naked and clean instead of dressed head to toe in leather and spikes with a guitar slung around my neck shouting “DES MOINES, ARE YOU READY TO ROCK WITH THE DEMONGODS OF METALLLLLL?”
I am driving Dominic to the van-rental place early on Tuesday and when dressing I know I will be going back to sleep later and I’m going to phone it in clothes-wise but then I think “What should I wear in case I get in a car accident and have to be interacting with cops and sitting on the curb?" This is not so much shallow as it is self-preservational, as I think a cop will be nicer to me if I’m not wearing a ratty old Bob Dylan t-shirt with several rips in the back, which I contemplate wearing for a minute.
I spend most of the day doing a whole bunch of adult-ism chore-related stuff. I put this kind of stuff off for so long, and when I finally have to do it, I approach it with the same just-do-it-just-do-it apprehension as calling a girl for the first time, except in that situation the results could range from sublime to embarrassing, which makes it so high-stakes and exciting and terrifying, and in the case of bullshit adult chores, the results only range from “bad and boring” if you mess up or “fine and boring” if you succeed at whatever it is you have to do, like insure your car or yourself or pay a bill or set up Direct Deposit.
Add to this I have a distinct day-after-Christmas feeling about Comic Con. Lots of Internet entertainment-news outlets are posting their Comic Con coverage and it is like when you go online the day after a party to look at the pictures on Facebook except instead of a bunch of people on a rooftop drinking forties it was you and your closest hundred thousand closest spiritual kinfolk reveling in big-budget promotional craziness and handmade fandom and each other and everything. The fun, at least of that, is over. There is also palpable nostalgia for New York. I had a pretty good Los Angeles thing going and then we left for an extended period of time and when I told myself ‘time to go home” I think maybe myself thought “home” meant “New York.” I offer to myself as a consolation the fact that it seems to be raining in New York twenty four seven this summer, but doesn’t it just seem like the kind of thing New York would do, and laugh it off? It is somehow like an ex-girlfriend you still long for getting a haircut that’s very severe and not, you think, all that attractive, but instead of making you feel better or superior it seems to put her on this even higher plateau for being crazy and difficult and inscrutable. It was not about the hair, she seems to be saying. It was not about the sunshine, New York seems to be saying. Goddamit.
One of my chores is getting a package of the kind of pens I like. I am no joke very excited about it. I bitch about the inexorable slide into mundane adulthood and then I get excited about a new package of black-inked writing instruments. Pilot G-2 07, the only way to fly. When a gentleman of taste and distinction thinks of a rocking good pun or hilarious dick joke, he reaches for a Pilot G-2 07 every time. Look for them wherever fine pens are sold.
I drive out to Venice where one of the Kogi BBQ trucks is parked. It is my second spontaneous solo trip to Kogi. Maybe this is a poser thing, seeking it out alone like this. I don’t care. Food I like and have to go out and get being in a different location every time appeals to my hunter-gatherer side, or at least, gatherer side. I eat a kimchee quesadilla sitting there outside the truck and I take a tofu burrito home with me, just like the cavemen would have done. As I’m eating the quesadilla, a searchlight (or lighthouse?) sweeps the low-hanging beach clouds. Venice seems nice. Two young well-dressed guys finish their food and then take off on bicycles at a leisurely pace. They must live around here. So that’s what The Life looks like. I require a bike and a neighborhood, I think.
There had been a school of thought that said we would drive back Sunday night but instead we opted to blow it out Sunday and sleep in Monday and then drive back. I wake up around eleven stone convinced that I need to be down at the booth doing something but then I remember there is no more booth and the Convention Center floor is probably even now being readied for next year’s Comic Con, giant displays for next summer’s blockbusters being erected solely on the basis of teamsters’ creative whims, and the directors of those blockbusters will be brought on the floor in a few months and told, “Okay, you have to put this crazy thing we built in the third act of your movie, cool?” I am relieved that I don’t have to do anything but eat lunch and drive back while listening to music really loud.
Dan says, “There is a movement to hit up Chic-Fil-A before we drive back.” Chic-Fil-A is, if you haven’t heard, the world’s greatest fast food chain, the warm benevolent universe-heart from which all good things flow. They don’t have them in New York and they don’t have them in Los Angeles, but there are randomly a smattering of them in San Diego. My response is something like “Uhm, fuck yeah.”
Getting my car out of the parking garage is a farce, but before long we are caravaning, my car and Dan’s car and the van, which Dominic is driving, to Chic-Fil-A. It is located on Sports Arena Boulevard, so named for the arena next to Chic-Fil-A. I’m not sure who plays what sport there but it is one of those depressing concrete 60’s joints that looks like a giant wedding cake designed by a severe German architect. It seems like it would fit in very well as b-roll in a documentary about a band who played a show there and things went sour and there was a riot and hundreds of hippies were crushed up against the arena’s inexplicably locked doors. You know what isn’t depressing? Chic-Fil- A! I get a sweet tea AND a peach milkshake, and I am still working on a coffee in my car, all of which itches the oddly swelled section of my brain that demands I be working on at least two beverages at all times. For all that I don’t have to pee once on the drive back to LA. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, either.
On the drive back I pass Disneyland, and see it from the highway at a weird angle that makes very clear how just-another-place it is. This was a very tough thing to accept as a kid in Disneyland’s target demographic, that Disneyland existed in the same world as your house or your school, that it was a business, that it was anything other than an idyllic Christmas-as-a-physical-place, an alternate dimension where it was always fun o’clock. Arriving in Anaheim it would make me crazy that kids and adults who lived and worked near Disneyland could do anything with their day but go to Disneyland all the time. They were a monorail ride away from paradise! Why would you ever go to school or your stupid job? (Later in life I would learn that living in close proximity to what I considered paradise drives you crazy enough to start No Doubt.) Other non-Disney-affiliated businesses surrounding the Magic Kingdom were actually maddening. “Damn you, tire shop!” you would think. “Be Disneyland, for fuck’s sake!” They were THIS CLOSE and yet they stubbornly carried on unwhimsied. It was a real kick in the baby teeth.
Getting my stuff out of the car back in Los Angeles I realize my backpack has a rip in the bottom. This sucks. I had this backpack for more or less the entirety of college. It was my pretty much constant companion in New York, long after I had a good academic reason to be carrying it. It accompanied me into many situations where it was downright cumbersome for a grown man to have a backpack, but my backpack understood that I would need my book or my notebook or my big headphones for the trip home, so it stood by me. It saved my ass numerous times when I would think, “Oh, shit, did I remember to bring…” and realize that while I had not remembered to bring said thing, I had forgotten to take it out of my backpack the last time I had it in there, so through a combination of my backpack’s quick thinking and the general persistence of objects, the thing would still be in there for me to access. LA has really hindered my need for a backpack and it hasn’t gotten much play recently, which is maybe the equivalent of the noble horse’s heart waiting to give out only after I’ve reached the destination where I’m supposed to deliver some critical time-sensitive news, and it senses its purpose is at an end. RIP Backpack. You had numerous chambers full of weird melted-together shit and broken CD cases only I knew never to use or look in, but airport security guys did not, leading to lots of hilarious situations where they would look at me like, “Are you sure you’re not a homeless person who somehow boarded a plane?” and I would look back at them like “I realize this would be excusable if I were still in college or an eccentric millionaire, and I’m neither, so if you could just kindly place that ancient melted Twix bar back in its proper place next to that shard of a Belle & Sebastian EP CD case and zip the whole thing up, my backpack and I will continue on our merry way, bothering no one.”
That night we go to see the new Harry Potter at a mall in Century City. It’s great! Makes me wish I’d read all the books, and I think I will soon. Dom drives and parks the car in this subterranean parking garage where every space has a little lightbulb over it, colored red when the space is occupied, green when it isn’t. Color-coding is huge in this parking garage: we are parked in the red section and we are convinced this will help us find the car when we descend into the garage after the movie, but we don’t see the red section and other-colored sections seem to appear around every pillar and it takes way longer than it should, especially considering there are almost no other cars in the garage at this hour. Eventually we stumble upon the red section and there’s Dominic’s car, with a single red light floating over it among an entire star system of green lights. It is the kind of thing you want to see in a place called Century City.