JFK —> LAX
“So no one flies on Super Bowl Sunday?” I ask the FAA employee shining a blue light over the scowling face on my California driver’s license. “What?” she asks, head still down and inspecting the younger, shorter-haired version of myself who still lived on Poinsettia Place. The one-worded question is delivered with a grating edge – her voice filled with the understandably perpetual irritation of someone who works at an airport for a living. “No one flies on Super Bowl Sunday. I’ve never seen this place so empty,” I repeat, gesturing to the open lanes snaking around nobody. She looks up and laughs, mildly entertained until she reaches for the passport of the person behind me.
Like the airport, the airplane is similarly empty. A flight attendant announces that as a “precaution” the use of electrical outlets on this plane has been discontinued. The engine revs up and I wonder what “precaution” means as I exercise some latent anxiety about every flight I’ve been on filled with people charging their cell phones and laptops willy-nilly while my life hung in some unknown balance.
We fly over suburbs and away from cities and I think of how many of these lives below I do not want – the meat and potatoes lives, 9-to-5-til-death-do-us-part lives. Bad marriages pretending to be good and houses with four bedrooms. Hulking wood furniture from Costco and fifty rolls of toilet paper. Children who grow up to be not their parent’s children but adults with their own agendas. The dreams that die and the realities that take their place. I do not ever want to acquiesce to the normal. That much I have decided I want out of my life. This is my resolve.
Tired from doing a week of mostly nothings and some somethings, I sleep on the flight, bent like an oversized protractor on two seats on the right hand side of the plane. 27 J. I’m always on the wing, I don’t know why. Someone once told me that the plane is strongest around the wings because of the necessary structural adjustments required to keep them in place, but that if something were to happen to the plane, it was the spot where it would likely break in half. So basically, in an earthquake, you’d want to be exactly where I am. In a plane crash, you’d likely want to be anywhere else.
The plane lands without me having to worry about my decision to be in aisle 27 and my mom picks me up in her black car with black leather seats, even though it’s midnight and she should be in pajamas, sleeping in a four-post bed she’s had since I was an infant. She brings me bottled water like I asked her to and I drink it while we drive down streets that feel too clean and empty. “Has this area always been so nice?” I ask, watching the sidewalks of Westminster drip by. Trader Joes, a CVS, Koo Koo Roo. “This area isn’t nice; you’ve just been in New York too long,” she says, a half-serious quip that makes me realize that my status quo has shifted. I have been gone from Los Angeles one year, nearly to the day, and I feel remarkably different. I walk differently, I see differently. My life feels like what it’s supposed to be, where it’s supposed to be.
We turn into a driveway with a gate and pull into the garage and my mom’s dogs come out through a sodden doggy door. They sniff and lick and wag their tails because they’re dogs and that’s what they do. They don’t like me because I’m that great of a person; they like me because their brains are small. They’re cute and stupid like girls in a club, drunk off the possibility of companionship.
Next Day: Being There
I walk through the house in my New York boots that feel too substantial for these floors. They clatter on tile and echo against the walls. My mom tells me they look like hell and when I see them in this environment – a California February free of snow and frozen dog shit and cigarette butts and spilled coffee and black trash bags and blue trash bags and discarded MetroCards – they do look rather downtrodden. In New York they feel appropriately worn, scarred to a fashionable point, leather bleeding with salt stains and cut by unremembered barbs. Here, in my mother’s bleached floor kitchen with birch cabinets, I feel like an impoverished character from Oliver Twist.
She takes me through the backyard covered in foliage that isn’t brown and tress that seem to never shed leaves. She points her lettuce, arugula, new pear trees, and a fading garden gnome. I walk past a swimming pool holding cold water and a cherry red Radio Flyer filled with lavender in plastic containers. Wearing black jeans and black boots and a black leather jacket, I turn my head towards the sun and literally bask in it. I let it fall on my cheeks and sink into my skin. Vitamin D…a healthy glow…freckles…how I’ve missed thee. I stare at the light through the red of my eyelids. It’s only 8 in the morning and it’s already forty-degrees warmer than the last two months of my life.
I get in my car, still covered in gum wrappers from my last trip, and put on music that for some reasons makes sense for walking on Brooklyn sidewalks but not for driving on Woodland Hills highways. Even my comparatively happy and energetic tunes feel too dense, too forceful, too affected. I turn on the radio, flipping through pop, country, Spanish, Spanish, religious, pop, bad rock, classic rock, Spanish, pop, pop. I end up alternating between KIIS FM and KCRW, a combination that should, in my estimation, make little sense at all.
Topanga Canyon looks like some Guam-inspired paradise and bad drivers snake along the highway, braking at idiotic places and speeding up in the others. I take pictures to send to someone living somewhere cold but my shitty phone does not do the scenery justice. You cannot feel the warmth, the heat, the sunshine. You can’t smell the ocean or feel the accelerator underfoot. It wasn’t until this year that I understood the California mysticism…that I appreciated this Los Angeles winter fairy tale.