I’m in the middle seat of a row of five on a 12 hour flight to L.A. I’m six five and hung over. We land and Greg’s girlfriend picks us up, it’s warm and I need a drink. I NEED A DRINK.
We drive from L.A.X. to West Hollywood and stop at a new gourmet burger bar on a street which is “so cute”. It looks like shit. I order a Stoli and a pint and prey it arrives before I’m expected to say anything. It doesn’t, so I shake and sweat my way through a stream of platitudes before escaping to the toilet.
I flood the back of my neck with cold water, fleeting relief, blow my nose and return to the table. I’m moving with all the elegance of the Tin Man. I need a drink. The table is empty bar some newly arrived cutlery and condiments.
I’m clearly wilting as Greg and Agnes are regarding me awkwardly. I suspect Greg wishes I wasn’t there but he invited me on this fools errand so tough shit. The casual loathing I feel for everyone around me further illustrates the isolations my cravings have bourne me.
The drinks arrive, I could weep. Even using both hands the glass shakes, ice rattling against glass. More concerned looks. Agnes tells me to eat something, I really should eat something. The vodka makes me gag and I feel bile rising in my chest.
The sun dips and I’m stuck with the happy couple. On the drive to my digs, they listen nostalgically to the sounds of their courtship, I nod and quip, having no idea what’s being said. They drop me at the Banana Bungalows, it’s a dump. I get out of the car and the sweat evaporates from my neck. I check in, and a fat girl in a Pixies t-shirt smiles lamely. I don’t want to be here either.
“Where’s the nearest supermarket?”, I ask.
I’m given directions to the local farmers market, I nod, quip and disregard.
My possessions are sat on a narrow bunk and I head into the night. Fairfax Avenue lacks character, and grass. Also it needs a breeze. I ask a tramp where the nearest supermarket is. He’s busy pissing on a bench so I ask someone else. Trader Joe’s is three blocks down and one over. It sells one and a half litre bottles of vodka for 12 dollars. That’s all I buy. As I stroll back up the avenue I sense triumph, I am alone and the air is cooling. My trousers are rolled up and I’m not wearing socks, it doesn’t occur to me that I look ridiculous, a young black girl shouts,
“What are those cuffs doing boy?!”
I think she says “cops”, it’s only later I realise she is saying “cuffs” and that she’s insulting my trousers, I laugh to myself. Dinner is my next priority, and I stop at a Deli called Canters. The queue is relatively long so I assume it’s decent. The chap in front of me orders “the usual”, it looks good. He looks like a rapper, the sandwich looks spectacular, pastrami, cheese, coleslaw and pickles on rye,
“I’ll have that too, please”
15 dollars, oops. Still, it’s the best sandwich I’ve ever had. The locals pass by indifferently, I eat, that sense of triumph rises again. I fall out with the staff at the hostel, I storm out and the homosexual who runs the retro-cinema next door calls me a cab. I get a brief tour of Tinsletown before being dropped at,
“the cleanest cheap motel around here”, I stay the night. There is a genuine sleepy Mexican behind the desk.
The next morning I check out, eat in Subway, and drag myself down Hollywood Boulevard, or at least what I think is Hollywood Boulevard, I’m not sure. A huge black guy offers me a joint, he’s with a pretty girl. We wander along this endless street for maybe ten minutes. He says that I’m “alright”, I shake their hands and continue on, the weed has made me anxious, so I check over my shoulder every few seconds, feeling some racist guilt. I need a shit so I duck into a cathedral.
I am conspicuous as I am the only person not standing with a small tour group, a young clergyman eyes me furtively. In the toilet I lock the cubicle door behind me and retrieve a bottle from my bag. I take a long deep drag, feel that cool, shuddering relief wash down my back and then I shit. Shitting is a spiritual part of my day, rebirth. The poison of yesterday is now the problem of Our Lady of the Angels, or at least it’s janitor. Feeling better, another two long drags bring me to my feet. A divine warm indifference blossoms and my red eyes well, I flood the back of my head in the sink, turn and see the young clergyman,
Sunlight baths the Santa Monica Freeway, my eyes well, my skin prickles with little aftershocks of liquor. Where’s the sea?
A ginger kid in a dark green great coat sees me, screams, flashes, I jump, he tells me not to worry, something about peppermint and he’s gone.
Eventually I jump on the bus to Santa Monica, I feel I’m being dragged into the Heart of Lightness. So much better now. Santa Monica, bright, cool and clean. It’s midday now and the streets are rich, happy, well rested, polite, toned, fit and enthusiastic. I regard my reflection in a juicebar window, and delight at what a state I’m in already. A near beautiful Latin girl is running a beach side cafe and lets me use her mobile. I call Greg and leave a message. I ask Sophia if I can come back later to see if he’s called. In town for an hour and I’ve already got a secretary!
There don’t appear to be any dive bars where I can hold court, so I sit under a tree and watch girls, boats at sea and an endless procession of cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, day trippers, junk food eaters, skateboaders, school kids, happy families…. I watch, I drink, I watch, I smile…..
A few hours have passed before I wake. The sun dips again and there’s four or five young vagrants scattered about, variously, sleeping, begging and smoking. A black kid asks for three dollars as he passes my tree throne.
“You’re listening to an I-Pod and I’m sleeping under a tree! You give me three dollars!”
He smiles and skips away.
“Sell those trainers!”, I shout after him.
He turns, smiles and he’s gone. I’m making friends!
I have a secretary and I’m resting contently in my moat of hobos, I own this town. I drain hard on the vodka, which is now decanted into an ice tea bottle. Back to the office to check in. It’s busier in the cafe than before, I hope all these customers aren’t distracting Sophia from her work. There’s not a lot of room to move and my weighty bindle bumps tables, buggies and displays. My secretary smiles nervously as I crash land at a table in the corner, kicking my bindle under the table. A long drag and I look up, smile and wave, I have a lovely assistant.
Sophia is olive skinned, prying eyes, perfect posture, glossy hair, pert tits and a plain dress. For her I’m an occupational hazard. The fact that she is clearly disturbed by my presence only endears her to me more. When the queue of legitimate customers dissipates, I veer to the counter like a sailor steadying himself on rough seas. A lovely, vulnerable smile flits across her strong face.
“Greg called for you, okay?”, I love you. Everything I need. Thank you, you’re delightful.
“He’s on his way, please stay here. On his way”. Perfect, I recline.
Whilst I’m waiting for Greg I ask Sophia to join me in the back (I forget why I know there’s a back room). My lovely assistant follows me, I close the door, towering above her, I put my hands on the firm flesh of her waist. She resists slightly before I kiss her. I hold on as long as she’ll let me, she says she needs to watch the bar, I let go and Sophia leaves. It’s so easy to fall in love and I’m the richest man alive.
Another deep drag and there’s fire in my chest. Greg appears with a very familiar look of concern on his face. As I’m ushered out, Sophia smiles a smile of relief and maternal affection.
“I’ll be back for you”, are the final words I utter to the best secretary I ever had.