Tag Archives: newcomers

“I’m Sittin’ in the Railway Station, Got a Ticket for My Destination. Mmm…”

“And where are you driving from?”

“Um…  Los Angeles?” I said and somehow felt an immediate need to apologize.

“Ow.  I’m so sorry,” he responded.

I looked at his squinting eyes:  This one was meaning well, I think.  His skin was brown and eroded by the exposure to the sun and to the demands of manual labor.  And at the same time, I knew that there was peace in the simplicity of his survival needs.

A cowboy hat with tattered straw edges covered his hairline, but judging by the streaks of gray in his eyebrows, his head was most likely silver haired.  Against the darkness of the skin, his baby-blue eyes stood out and promised me that I was talking to a good one.  I quickly permitted for a flash of memory of my own old man — (What would he look like, now?) — and I decided that this one had to be meaning well.

“She ain’t so bad,” I said.  I shook my head and smiled from underneath my own embarrassment on behalf of the City that everyone was so willing to leave.  The moderately pleasant woman handing me my smoothie from behind the counter looked sideways at the cowboy, then at me.

So, I reiterated to them both:  “No, really.  She ain’t so bad.”

The night before I fled Her city limits, I took a risk and climbed up onto the 10 East.  I was initially going to zoom through side streets, out of habit, while circumventing the intersecting onramps and the already buzzing malls.  But when nearing a freeway underpass, I noticed the dashing by of traffic headlights.  The cars were moving for a change, and so I took a risk.

At first, my path had to be negotiated with an impatient female driver of some Japanese-made SUV on her way to the Valley:  She demanded her right of way toward the 405 merger by scowling and widening of her heavily made-up eyes at me, through her tinted, rolled-up windows.

“I’m not the one driving with an iPhone glued to her ear,” I thought, and motioned for her to pass.

She zoomed in front of me, honked in a departing act of her aggression, then stepped on it.

“Yeah. You, too!” I muttered in response.  “You fuckin’…”

My navigation of the remaining six miles, however, lacked in adventures.  In silence, I calmed down.

The cars were moving, and for the first time, I noticed the clearness of the night.  It had been raining for a day and a half, and the asphalt in my lane was black and glistening.  On the North side of the freeway, in the crisp, clear air I noticed the square skyscrapers, all lit up in silver.  Is that Downtown?  Nope, too soon for that.

I rolled down my windows.  The air was crisp.  The City was quiet.  She smelled like sweating piles of leaves, pine sap and chimneys.  The hellish pace of the looming holidays was coming upon us; and with the exception of the City’s newcomers, flooding her with their yet un-jaded dreams, Her every resident would begin to plot escape routes.

“She ain’t so bad,” I thought, that night.

I was, however, already that someone who’d preplanned her routes out of the City.  To stick around would either turn out painfully lonely or exhaustingly disappointing.

And so, a day before the year’s first giant migration would begin, I drove out.  At first, my way had to be negotiated along the loop of the 405 merger.  But on the next Northbound freeway and for at least two hundred miles, the traffic would begin to move.

I studied the faces of the other drivers.  The further North I drove, the more relaxed the others would appear.  The permanent tension between my eyebrows softened, and I would talk myself out of my repertory of glares and profanity.

A gray-haired couple, cooped up inside their vintage Volvo hatchback along my ride through Santa Barbara, wasn’t talking.  But in their intimate silence, they seemed to be conspiring against the world.  A college-age girl in a white Honda with writing on its side window kept fiddling with her radio.  Had she forgotten the tensions at the Thanksgiving table of last year, or was she born to parents who loved her unconditionally?

Couples with strapped-in children in the backseats seemed talkative as they discussed the lengths of their future stays at each other’s in-laws.  The brown faces of Mexican workers seemed fancy free no matter the content of their weathered trucks:  Some could be working in the vineyards, others — driving to the wealthy ‘hoods of Cambria and Morro Bay.  The eyes of truck drivers appeared tired but content:  Migrating through the country always promised an escape from obligations and other people’s stress.

I realized that other travelers kept their eyes on their destinations.  They drove to:  To places and addresses of their beloveds.  To me, however, my from — was what propelled me:

From Her — I’ve learned to get away.  From Her — I’ve learned to leave and somehow learn while leaving.  But the more froms I would accumulate, the more often I found myself thinking, “She ain’t so bad” — when heading back.

“Go Home — And Be A Better Boy! (Although, Sometimes, It’s Tricky.)”

“This is the human heart,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.  “It’s light — and it’s dark.”

Well, actually, she sounded more like my motha:

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk.”

The actress with my name was playing a Russian prostitute, and she’s got some serious chops.  She is an East Coaster, more of a European:  One of those disciplined artists, with a compassionate heart.

In a film, she is arguing with a potential john about urban decay.  He is a landscape architect obsessed with the world’s dark corners.  She, however, lives amidst them:  In a civilization collapsing on itself like a giant snake swallowing its own tail.  And somehow, she has a better grasp on human patterns than a man studying them, for a living, while being buried up to his chin in his sterile theories.

(I used to love a man like that.  Holy fuck!  He almost took me out of the game.)

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.

But all I could think was:

“Tired today.  Is this where I burn out?”

It’s been hard, living around here.  In the beginning, there were difficulties related to the mere survival:  shelter, work, learning the geography of this place.  The fucking landscape!

I would figure it all out, in less than a year — and that would be the easy part.  Because it still wouldn’t let up.  The survival would get easier, sure; but somehow it never amounted to anything.  Every day, it felt like starting from scratch:  Paying the dues.  And every day, I would feel I could just burn out, at any moment.  But giving-up — was never really an option.  So, I just kept pushing.

For nearly an hour, I sat in traffic yesternight, to get to a hood only a mile away from my own.

“Could’ve walked this fucker faster,” I thought, while crawling behind a retiree fond of riding the breaks of his Chevy.

As soon as the one-lane street opened into a turn-lane in the middle, I zoomed around him.

“Christ,” I swore.

But then, I found myself behind an orange bus that added to the relentless heat wave with its boiling exhaust fumes.  I rolled up my windows and crawled behind it for another couple of blocks, while riding my breaks.

“Fucking hot!” I thought.  “Is this where I burn out, finally?”

But giving-up — wasn’t really an option.  So, I kept riding.

I cranked up the AC.

The houses on this stretch of Hollyweird wear that used-up look of a transient neighborhood.  They serve as temporary shelters to those who come to test their luck.  But the newcomers would figure it out, in less than a year, and move to more comforting neighborhoods; taking tiny slices of whatever was left — with them.  There are a few parks here, some dodgy playgrounds.  And I wouldn’t dare to find myself walking here, at night, through this fucking landscape.

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez dark.”

Did I just say that out loud?

Don’t know.

Tired today.

And it’s fucking hot.

I rolled down the windows again.  Might as well.

The smell of the collective exhaustion entered my car immediately, and all I could hear was the screeching of occasional breaks, punctuated by distant sirens.  No human voices here.

The traffic kept crawling.

“I could’ve walked this fucker faster!” I thought.

On Vine, an ancient Nissan jumped out of a pathetic shopping center and into the lane ahead of me, as if it were driven by someone looking for his own suicide.  My breaks screeched.

“Idiot.”

Then, the urban kamikaze proceeded riding his breaks.  To avoid a suicidal thought of my own, I studied the dusty white building of an Armenian church.  On its stone fence, a security guard was talking to a working girl with enormous sparkly fake eyelashes.  Both were about to start their shift.

“This eez ze human hearrt.”

Did I just say that?

Don’t know.

Tired.

I turned into the first side street and sped up.  A lanky kid with an Afro jumped out of an alley on his skateboard.  He was beautiful.  I started riding my breaks behind him.

“Fuck it!” I thought.  “I can walk this fucker faster!”

I parked behind a Grand Cherokee with chipping red paint, no longer glossy.  A hefty, tall man walked by, on a cracked pavement, audibly talking to himself.  He saw me looking, stopped muttering.  Gave me the middle finger.

“ASK ME,” said his neon orange shirt.

“This eez ze human hearrt,” I said out loud, yanked the hand break and stepped out into traffic.

“Have You No Sense of Decency?”

Sirens.  They are so much louder in this city, it seems; louder than anywhere else. (And I’ve heard my share, trust me.  I hate it.)

They are louder than in that other place I keep procrastinating returning to, regardless of its coordinates as the Center of the Universe (because I haven’t paid my dues here yet, you see).  But then, these police hollers are not as as loud as those other things, up in my neighborhood’s sky every bloody night, shooting down searchlights into a zip code that shoots searchlights back up at it, from every douchy new joint that won’t last.

Nothing really lasts, it’s true.  But LA-LA has a special talent for transience.

Everybody despises it here, at least at one point or another.  It’s what this city is here for, don’t cha know?  This poor, used-up girl!

When I think of LA-LA’s face, I think of a woman, of course; of someone who is moderately pretty and lovable, but with time.  She is the girl one settles for, not the heartbreaker perfectly dressed at all times who ruins a man’s heart with her impossibility and expensive, addictive perfumes.  No, LA-LA is much simpler than that:  She is there, for the taking — if one is kind enough and patient.  But if ever you decide to break-up with her, she’ll let you go so freely you’ll wonder if she ever even loved you at all.  So, the joke’s on you, really.  And no matter where the departed go from here — from her — don’t you worry:  She’ll be fine.  She’ll still be here, for the next guy.

The natives (who are in the minority here, because the minorities — are not):  They despise the newcomers.  And there are plenty of those, every day climbing off their Greyhounds and shuttles; interrogating their cabbies as if they were tour guides.  (I would hate to be a cabdriver in this city:  too many flights.)  It’s endless, this influx of dreamers.  Perpetual.  THANK GOD.

And then, the newcomers despise not being important enough, not quickly enough.  Back in the pond where they’ve come from, they used to be so beloved:  How dare you not know their name?!  Or maybe, they weren’t loved enough, and they’ve come here to avenge themselves.  Regardless:  They have yet to learn that LA-LA doesn’t give a damn about their personal agendas.  Here, time is made of liquid rubber (and it stinks equally).  It takes time to make a name for yourself (even if you’ve come here with a name).  But first, you have to make a living — and a life.

The beautiful girls, of which LA-LA has plenty:  The beautiful girls who lose their beauty here — that’s what they hate this city for.  They would’ve wasted their youth elsewhere, it’s true; but then, it least, it would’ve gained them something.

I bumped into one of them the other day:  She’s been paying her dues for six years now, just like me; and after endless auditions and plenty of cocktail waitressing, she’s finally earned herself an Under-Five on a some show about Hollywood douche bags.

“Congratulations, love,” I said.  “Where to next?”

“HOME.  I’m going home.”

The young, heartbreaking boys with low expectations and a high tolerance for deprivation; who sleep in cars in between apartments (because it makes for a great story, once they’re famous) — they think they don’t need love around here.  They can do without it, for now:  They’ve got time.  But when they learn that time is made of liquid rubber, randomly, they start poking around.  Poking themselves into any moderately pretty girl who’ll pay attention after enough drinks — and attention.  All this random poking into loveless girls — that’s their beef with this city.

“No offense,” one of them shot me a stare the other day as if I were the one offending him.  “But there are no decent women here.”

I rebutted quickly and well (I’ve had practice, you see).  He laughed, changed his mind (was I worthy of a poke?), and asked me if I had “anything on me”.

“Anything on me?”

“Don’t cha like to have some fun?” he said; then, shot me another spiteful stare.  I was just another dumb bitch, who, at least, had the decency to be decent.  But he wasn’t after decency, really.

Oh, we’ve all had a share of mistakes here; have fallen prey to douches and scams.  But that’s okay.  Silly mistakes are okay.  Just don’t be stupid.  LA-LA is too small of a town for stupidity, because somebody knows somebody else.  The word gets around.

Here, you’re always supposed to know a Somebody:  Knowing a Somebody gets you closer to your own Somebody-ness. So, you hang on to the few famed ones, drink up from their expensive pool, up in the hills.  You memorize the names of their siblings and pretend liking their dogs, just so one day you may say to somebody, over pizza:

“That’s my friend:  Somebody!”  And you all stare at the face blown up on the screen and feel like you’re ever so closer to having paid your own dues.

And every once in a while, an actual friend of yours — not just a Somebody but a comrade-in-arms — books something big.  (This must be the reason why I myself love pilot seasons in LA-LA.)  And it’s wonderful.  Oh, how wonderful!  THANK GOD.  And if you haven’t lost the ability for compassion to your own sense of despair, you feel thrilled for her.  Because it also means there is still hope; that dreams are not forsaken, in LA-LA.

But then, your friend leaves.  If she doesn’t leave for another city, she leaves for a different demographic.  You may still have a chance to hang out at her expensive pool, up in the hills; sitting next to the next transient guy, despising this city:

LA-LA has a special talent for transience.  But at least, you have a chance to cash in your own big check (after enough time and patience; dues and poking around).  And if you’re still with it — at your turn for Somebody-ness — it’ll get you closer to your next dream.  Or the next city.