Out of town for some Thanksgiving lovin’ and an inadvertent brain siesta. Happy holidays, kids.
The traffic is worse and they are blowing up mountainsides to expand freeways. Four lanes, five lanes, six lanes. People will continue to live here and the roads will cram up again and their “progress” will be rendered obsolete. This makes me angry. A lot about this place makes me angry.
I drive through the Sepulveda Pass, which looks like a head of chopped-up, wilting cabbage and not any sort of natural thing. Concrete walls rise vertically where the chaparral used to grow. Once I saw a deer at the foothills of the Getty Center and I felt badly for it – what a miserable place for an animal. There are red brake lights and people driving badly. Faded yellow machines of industry wait to dig at more things. Steep roads lead to cheap houses that cost a lot of money – million dollar views of the creeping 405.
Blue skies are routinely replaced with a shade of smoke white. Marine layer mixing with smog and other things that probably kill you over time. There aren’t many birds here; I always thought there were more birds. There were definitely more Blue Jays, that much I know. We used to feed them peanuts with the shell still on off of our brick front porch.
When I was younger, though I didn’t drive, there was an open window of time before the traffic hour: between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. you were free to navigate the freeways without concern of gridlock. While I was in high school that window had shortened from about 10:30 to 3:30, and since then it has constricted itself into a tight little ball of time that happens sometime around 12 noon and 1:30 p.m. That’s when you’re free to drive, sometimes. Sometimes the roads never open up.
The drive to Orange County is uneventful save for the idiot in the Pathfinder who nearly runs into me. I honk and swerve and mouth, “What the fuck?!” to express my disdain for him in that moment. I don’t miss this way of life, not really at all. I shut my brain off, flipping between radio stations that aren’t very good and flicking my turn signal. I pass cars, not looking at the people inside. I watch the road.
I pull into a large, expansive mall parking lot filled with too many cars for this early hour in the middle of a workday. I detest these places: malls filled with opportunities to look like everyone else. Small. Medium. Large. You, me, and everyone else we know all wearing the trends from the latest seasons. Lucky us.
There are plenty of spots in the back row. I park there, underneath a tree that’s still green. I don’t understand the people here: how they fight for parking spots close to the entrances but live at gyms. Old ladies are dressed up, wearing Hermes scarves and matching pantsuits. One day I want to move to the middle of nowhere an associate myself with no one except an open ranch and a horse, and then I can pretend that places like this don’t really exist. I would quite like that.
Through the department store doors are racks of clothes that nobody really needs. More shit, more stuff. They circulate tepid air and music by Sade. They offer you perfumes. Models advertise things you can never be. Buy me. Buy me. Buy the life you’re not really living so you forget what that even means.
The plane pulled away from the gate, me sitting in seat 8A, sober and not anxious for the first time in probably a year. My heart beat softly and uninterrupted, I did not dwell on improbable worst-case scenarios, I kept my eyes open. I was, in a word, calm. I’m not sure what had shifted in me, but it seemed as though recently I had more to think about than dying in a plane crash. I felt a new episode of my life approaching somewhere on a distant horizon and that made me seem indestructible, at least for the next six hours, however foolhardy that thought might have been. I would land, because I had to land.
We waited on the tarmac, JFK’s operations paralyzed as of late by the lack of available runways. “We’re about…errr…eighth in line,” came the pilot’s voice over the loudspeaker. The extra time gave my latent nervousness opportunity to pique, but I did my best to ignore it. I watched a plane take off to my right, its glowing silver belly reflecting the lights below. I imagined the planes to be flying fish and us its unexpected occupants, taking to squid-inked waters, a great unknown.
As our turn for takeoff drew near, the engine next to my window purring more aggressively, the prayers of the Hassidic Jewish man sitting next to me became equally more fevered. I took comfort in his faith, though it was in no way my own. But we were similar in that respect: me with my faith in this plane and he in his God, his beliefs.
The plane straightened itself and began its sprint off the concrete, everything passing by in a more rapid succession. The wheels left the ground and that was that: six hours of my life I had absolutely no control over, but the reality was, I didn’t have control over any aspect of my life. The most I could ever do was keep my apartment clean and wash my sheets on Saturdays; the rest had always been up to forces greater than myself. The next six hours will be no different than the previous thousands I have lived before. Just more uncertainty, more risk, more resigning myself to facts that are impervious to my anxiety, my concern. And then I breathed.
Below, the landscape looked like a preschool class mess of glitter and water spilled in indecipherable shapes. Nighttime paint. Yellows and whites and reds, condensed and dispersing, focused and wayward.
Manhattan arose in the north, pockets of light forming into recognizable shapes. I watched it disappear and I was sad, like saying goodbye to a friend you were just getting to know but had been immediately and madly charmed by – someone you didn’t want to leave despite your lack of history together, bound by some inexplicable connection that made you feel silly. The bridges, the lights, the positioning of obscure parts of boroughs. I knew what they were; I knew their names.
A letter from Charles Bukowski to William Packard:
Dec. 23, I990
Hello Wm Packard:
No, you’re not down, maybe I’m down, sometimes I feel like my skivvies are down around my ankles and my butt is a target for hyena turds.
Listen, your Pincus is awful hard on the poets. I thought I was hard on the poets. Well, I’m glad I get by him. And he’s right on WAITING. Only if the octipus has you in its tentacals you can’t wait too long.
On WAITING I know what he means. Too many writers write for the wrong reasons. They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with bluebells in their hair. (Maybe that last ain’t a bad idea).
When everything works best it’s not because you chose writing but because writing chose you. It’s when you’re mad with it, it’s when it’s stuffed in your ears, your nostrils, under your fingernails. It’s when there’s no hope but that.
Once in Atlanta, starving in a tar paper shack, freezing. There were only newspapers for a floor. And I found a pencil stub and I wrote on the white margins of the edges of those newspapers with the pencil stub, knowing that nobody would ever see it. It was a cancer madness. And it was never work or planned or part of a school. It was. That’s all.
And why do we fail? It’s the age, something about the age, our Age. For half a century there has been nothing., No real breakthrough, no newness, no blazing energy, no gamble.
What? Who? Lowell? That grasshopper? Don’t sing me crap songs.
We do what we can and we don’t do very well.
Strictured. Locked. We pose at it.
We work too hard. We try too hard.
Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. It’s been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb.
There’s been too much direction. It’s all free, we needn’t be told.
Classes? Classes are for asses.
Writing a poem is as easy as beating your meat or drinking a bottle of beer. Look. Here’s one:
mother saw the racoon,
my wife told me.
ah, I said.
and that was
the shape of things
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Call me closed minded, but there are a few fashion moments I just don’t understand. Like completely beyond my comprehension. The one that’s been boggling my mind for the better part of two years is the “I’m going to wear this 90s floral baby doll dress with boots that make my legs look fat and some ripped tights and maybe a hat – that would be good, too – and a big fluffy sweater that doesn’t match” look. I don’t get it. I wore that shit when I was in second grade; we bought rayon dresses from the JC Penney Outlet store and paired it with cheap earrings that I stole from Claire’s. The necklines were always off and the patterns were cheap and careless, the same bullshit bouquet of flowers printed uniformly all over the place. To me, that was growing up in the 90s.
But some of what’s going on today isn’t even good nineties fashion. Crop top: I get it. Your brother’s smelly plaid button up: I get that, too. But dressing like you’re the geriatric loser chick that they cut out of The Baby Sitter’s Club is just something I’m never going to understand.
Seeing as I am (obviously) not a big fan of this look, I believe that there are very few girls (if any) that can pull it off. These are usually short, petite chicks that were about the size I was in elementary school, when this look was “cool.” It might be that they actually look good in that “I wish I dated Kurt Kobain” outfit, or I’m just projected nostalgia onto them, seeing a little piece of myself as they walk down the street.
I was sitting on the train the other day when I saw the most egregiously bastardized version of this trend: four girls whose collective presence was enough to me to pray for blindness. Allow me to elaborate.
Girl 1: Leopard tights paired with cream knit socks made for winter, paired with some dumpy ass loafers in camel. A dress of a nondescript shape to cover whatever was going on underneath. Giant, pilled sweater. Nerd glasses.
Girl 2: Black tights with white socks (not as nicely knitted), paired with nearly the same exact pair of dumpy ass loafers, but in black. Crosby-era sweater, some sparkly fucking Lurex woven into the knit. Nose piercing (I don’t have anything against nose rings but it was gilding a lily that needed no such thing). Oh, and lots of VPL.
Girl 3: Black stirrup leggings, white socks visible through the u-shaped holes. Red velvet Keds. Black hair that had obviously been bleached in the kitchen sink with cleaning fluids, left a sour yellow color. Thurston Powell’s 80s faux-Hermes jacket and a powder blue purse. A wrinkled dress in white cotton with polka dots. [On a side note, this one is still giving me nightmares. She wins.]
Girl 4: Combine all of the aforementioned outfits, rinse, repeat.
I sat there, trying not to stare at these trolls who were attacking my sartorial senses. They had taken something that was already bad and made it infinitely worse. It was beyond anything I could have even concocted when left to my own devices back in 1993, and that’s saying a lot; I liked floral bikers shorts and homemade Puffy Paint t-shirts.
As the train sped along, I wished they would go home and vow never to dress like this again, just so I would never have to be subjected to it. The vomitous sensation was not unlike when MTA put up those macro photographs of open-heart surgery on the trains in their anti-smoking campaign. I felt violated, abused, and when they got off at Bedford I breathed a sigh of relief, taking solace in a view that had been replaced by a trampy looking Polish woman with fake nails and pink lipstick.
It’s a Sunday morning and the lazies are still sleeping, collectively tucked into their beds, awaiting hangovers and grease-laden brunches. The main drag is quiet, save for the sound of footsteps and the rustling of plastic bags crunching around the weight of purchases. A woman walks towards me, a kitten tucked in close to her generously proportioned chest as though it were a baby and not a new pet. It steadies itself with outstretched paws, its eyes wide, staring up at trees it instinctively wants to climb.
I walk the park, the breeze finding its way through my coat. My shoes hit the pavement and I wonder if I should get them shined; they are covered with tequila and footprints – evidence of the last three weeks. Above one of many brick buildings, a flurry of pigeons catch a swell of air, riding it like an ocean current, beautiful and synchronized, suspended in air until they find grounding in a telephone wire.
I pass a family on a sidewalk in dire need of repair, their little boy sitting in a stroller, crying, “It’s too late. It’s too late. It’s too late,” like the broken voice of some hidden apocalypse. He wipes tears away from his eyes, towards his ears, while his father placates him with “It’s okays” and one “It’s not so tragic.”
Down the road, the stillness of morning is even more apparent; I listen to skateboard wheels on pavement and the jingling of dog collars. I love this, this lack of everything. The quiet. The peace.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Cantanese http://www.mcantanese.com
“Don’t you look happy today?”
I pluck my headphones from both ears out of courtesy and a woman on the corner of Thompson Street continues to speak. She has a frizzy mess of hair flocked with coarse gray hairs, having grown even more unruly in their aging years. Her nose curves in an unattractive way and she has a gray mustache that makes me vaguely uncomfortable.
“It’s a beautiful day,” I say, further playing into my concepts of courtesy when talking to strangers.
“No. No, it’s a heavenly day,” comes her response through lips curling into a smile.
It was true. It was beautiful afternoon and I was happy, effervescent even. I had the day off and I was chasing the sun west as it disappeared from the buildings of SoHo to sit on the Hudson River. I kept walking and walking, the unseasonably warm day reminiscent of the coming of spring. This is the type of day that never happens in Los Angeles because it always happens in Los Angeles. Beautiful days – one after another after another after another. So many beautiful days, in fact, that you forget they are beautiful days at all. The “good weather” everyone speaks of when they talk about California rendered just “weather” – boring, warm, pleasant weather – that you take for granted like a girlfriend you’ve dated for a few years but no longer appreciate, a girl you’ll never marry because you’re bored.
I remain steady, pinned to a street corner while the Crazy/ Nice Lady talks to me about what I’m wearing. “Is that a matching suit?” she asks. I’m wearing navy shorts and an 80s nautical blazer I’ve recently removed the shoulder pads from – I’ve got shoulder enough already as it is. She tells me how adorable she thinks I look and how easy it would be to go from day to night in an outfit like that.
“You know what I want to see?” she says. I lean in, my fingers near my chin and mouth the way I do when I’m listening to someone – probably a body language cue I picked up from some actor in a movie I saw when I was six. “A different shoe,” she states. “Oh, a good heel might be nice,” I counter, willingly participating in this impromptu discussion about fashion with a stranger. “No. No. Heels would make this look cheap. And this isn’t a cheap girl. I’d like to see this with some nice dress shoes if you were going out at night,” she continues. “Hmmm…patent?” I muse, playing into her styling daydream. “Sure, patent. And no makeup. A freshly scrubbed face and clean, clean hair. Girls these days wear so much makeup. Tarts. The lipstick, the nail polish, the eyeliner…” She drags her fingers across her eyelids in emphasis as though she were applying war paint.
The things coming out of this woman’s mouth – her teeth yellowed and crooked and rat-like – are the musings of a fashion editor who is trapped in the body of a witchy, West Village hag wearing sweatpants and a fanny pack. I would never look at this woman and think that she would ever even dream about the perfect shoe or find pleasure in a matching summer suit. I find her completely odd and totally delightful.
“The girls these days,” she continues, “Their tits out, asses out. Their hooker heels. That stuff’s okay for the bedroom, but…You don’t need to go to the hooker bar every night.” I laugh, thinking this woman would be hilarious to be related to; Christmas dinners would be endlessly interesting. She’d be the crazy aunt that your mother said dropped too much acid in college and “Look what happened.” Still, this woman is more sane than most, at least in a sartorial sense.
I have started to make my way off of the sidewalk and into the street – this is a woman who would talk until Tuesday if I let her. As I walk backward, laughing, I say, “The hooker bar just a few nights a week suits me just fine.”
In an attempt to make the evening feel less debacherous than it actually was, I attempted to take notes while out on the town, as I often do over the course of every day. My thoughts have become a bad habit of mine. While the filler-details that I am usually able to remember the next day were beyond my reach, I was left with only these notes to explain to me some of the events of the evening.
…feels like a scene out of 200 Cigarettes
…someone is reciting “I Have a Dream” in a pizza shop
…following a merman with a pointy specter
…thank god all the assholes get off at 14th Street… dumping ground for d bags
…lots of bedbugs and mattresses…Super Mario and Luigis
…bedbug mattress gets stuck in the closing subway doors
…guy looks like he’s a tiki torch dressing up as an astronaut blanket
…two brunette boys in heels and badly fitting cocktail dresses
…some poor sucker attempts mathematical equations in a notebook. lame.
“Take pictures of MEEEEEEEE!!!” someone shrieks. Shrill.
A man with no teeth and an ever-depleting can of beer attempts to tell me something – maybe about fake blood. When I am unresponsive he continues talking to himself. “Get out all you. Fuckin’…get out! Get out!” Waving his hands around and moving his jaw.
Conversation about divorce:
Dude) “Well, you married him…”
Chick) “But why do I have to be STUCK with him?”
I came across this little ditty while going through my archives of writings from the last two years – no small task, apparently. I thoroughly enjoyed stumbling across this little rant, tucked deep into my hard drive just waiting to see the light of day, though it probably shouldn’t. And here, my ode to a bad roommate. I never was much of a poet.
I will not miss the way you shout
Or the way your arms, they flail about
As your face turns red and mean and nasty
You called me c*%t; I heard you!
What do you take me for, a patsy?
The name you call your little dog,
Who looks less kanine and more a frog.
The words you speak in Italian at night
While [I didn’t finish this part, but I could write something about sharpening knives…knives would rhyme]
The wine bottles to which you did tend
The ones you stack from end to end,
In the rack, in the fridge, in the cooler beside your bed.
Not one, nor two, nor thirty will be missed.
They won’t be missed at all my friend.
Oh, I’m sorry! Did I say friend?
Because I meant Satan.
The room fills up with a dense fog only really appropriate for haunted houses and this outfit, an industrial/ horror/ synth band called Gatekeeper from Chicago. As my friend Justin calls it, the best thing out of Chicago since deep-dish pizza and another reference I can’t hear over the noise. Red lights glow over a crowd of people dancing like zombie Germans. An intense strobe light capable of blinding a person snaps behind them like lightening. Talk about setting the mood.
As we walk towards the front of the room, I pass a pseudo-goth chick with dark, penciled-in lips mouthing a purple laser beam being pointed into her cavernous mouth by some dude as though it were, well, you can imagine. This is both confusing and unattractive and strangely comparable to what it looks like when the dentist is putting anti-cavity sealants on your teeth.
The music has a density that hasn’t been popular for a long time, maybe the nineties when it was okay to be dark. Sometimes I feel like there’s this post-9/11 subconscious cultural obligation to be chipper and happy in the face of the disintegration of a nation. But I suppose music has always attempted to counter reality. I feel like the pill-popping, rave-going, self-destructive nature of the 90s was a probably counter to all of the positive things going on. Humans are surely a sick breed.
Gatekeeper is a relic from a darker age, one that brings to mind dancing with your fists in some windowless basement, sweating the day out somewhere Berlin. In fact, Justin notes that Le Bain is probably the oddest place to see this type of music, surrounded by walls of windows and beautiful views of Manhattan being laid before your fortunate feet. Gatekeeper was made for S&M clubs and horror movies with hardcore zombie sex scenes.
While I’m dancing with my eyes closed, jamming my shoulders and hips in convergent directions with the beat, a scene Blade comes to mind. Blade was that super awesome movie from 1998 that I can’t vouch to be super awesome now because I haven’t seen it in over ten years. Anyway, it starred Stephen Dorff as some demonic super vampire and Wesley Snipes was the ass-kicking vampire slaughterhouse. The opening scene features a bunch of 90s-era hookers rubbing up against each other, gay-looking men in snug shirts, and a creepy dude getting a blow jobs on a the couch…and everyone’s dancing to hard Euro house music. Eventually the sprinkler system starts leaking red stuff (uh oh) and the words “BLOOD BATH” are illuminated behind the DJ booth, at which point blood starts raining from the ceiling onto the supple flesh of dancing vampires. Wesley Snipes arrives, he kicks some ass, blah blah blah. Anyway, Gatekeeper is like the reintroduction of that vibe…and haven’t we all missed it so?
What’s sort of refreshing about Gatekeeper is that it is in such direct opposition to everything going on in indie rock right now. It’s hard and unforgiving and dark and sometimes that’s what you need to dance to, just to exercise that side of your personality. Gatekeeper wants you to know it’s okay to be creepy. Go ahead; dance like a bloodthirsty Euro vampire and, hell, if you like getting your hair pulled, just ask for it.