A week ago, I bought a one-way ticket to California to try to once again leave the South and this time really never go back. Although I’ve talked about doing this for months, an embarrassing lack of preparation was involved prior to boarding the plane. There was no budget or exit strategy, only fantasies about tacos, palm trees, and my bikini. A week ago I was bored in Atlanta working an online job from my apartment and today I am in Los Angeles more satisfied with my decisions than I have been in a very long time.
Before my flight, I contacted only one of my few friends in California. This friend is a television and film producer who I know from my years living in New York City. He had been a regular party guest of mine back when I lived in Brooklyn and once showed up to a rooftop barbeque in a tuxedo. The fashion decision only added to the mystery associated with his vaguely potent “producer” title that seems so common in LA.
During our very short phone call I was given an open-ended invitation to his spare room. He also mentioned that he might have a job for me on a Jonas Bros music video. Everything had fallen into place better than it would have if I had actually tried to book myself a hotel room. My friend said he had meetings lined up already during the day, but that a key would be waiting for me in the most predictable secret location: under the welcome mat.
As part of what has now become a ritual, I did not sleep during the night before my flight. I kept myself awake by reading strange-looping Wikipedia pages and skimming the footnoted citations. I lazily considered the endless, self-referential nature of the internet and how infrequently wiki articles link back to real printed matter and how little it matters when they do. I smoked a pair of joints with the intention of walking through security stoned. I brought myself to the airport with two carry-on bags and slid through security, unflappable. I wanted to be chosen for a full body scan, but knew it wouldn’t happen. Sadly, the people that are scanned always seem naturally hapless and confused by procedure. They remove their shoes with a confused look on their face even though it is a task they have performed hundreds of thousands of times throughout their lives.
My flight was long and made even longer because we were delayed taking off. I slept soundly once the plane finally made it into the air and woke up in an unknown time zone with a desert outside my window. I looked at my neighbor and saw medical journals and close-up images of eyeballs spread out on her tray table and assumed she was an ophthalmologist. I asked if she knew what time it was and wondered if it was a trick question. Can trick questions have real answers?
I landed safely at LAX but this time no one was there to meet me. For one of the first times in my life, I was in an airport of a new city without a friend waiting to help me with my bags. All the people around me were strangers, but they all looked determined, like they owned a purpose and a clearer path than I did.
I texted my friend to let him know I had arrived and walked down the empty sidewalk toward the taxis. My driver wore a leopard-skin hat and apologized for the cold weather. I wondered if she was crazy or just pretentious because it was 77 degrees and the windows were down. In her defense, she was friendly and knew the route to get where I was going better than I did. The ride was short and expensive. I got out of the car and was greeted by the happiness of a lemon tree and the numbers on a house in Angelino Heights that matched the ones I had saved on my cell phone.
Up until that moment when I arrived at the front gate, I did not know for certain where or how I would be spending my nights. The only person I know very well in Los Angeles is an ex-boyfriend that I used to love. He does not know I am here or that I have put the decision to call him on hold. My immediate plans concern only the beach and seeing the new Herzog film in 3D. My eventual goal is to make my way up to San Francisco where I will investigate what life could be like as graduate student. I want to experience a separate California from the one I knew as a visiting long-distance girlfriend.
I carried my things up two sets of outside stairs to the front door. The house was built on top of a hill and I paused and stared out at my view of swaying palm trees and downtown LA. My skin was warm and I felt myself starting to get a tan beneath my sweater.
The key was exactly where it was supposed to be and the door opened just as it was supposed to. Inside there were oriental rugs and old-looking mirrors in each room. It was big, sunny, and empty. Aside from Target shopping bags filled with extra pillows and sheets resting on the floor, there was no sign of my friend. Piles of dusty paperbacks plotted in foreign countries were on the shelves; the books looked like they had been read a very long time ago by someone who I did not know. Where were the cigarettes? The photographs of people that I recognized? Why weren’t the closets filled with men’s jackets or American Apparel sweatshirts?
But everyone sublets when they travel between cities, like my friend does. I tried to calm down and thought about how the strange apartment was perfect, on a beautiful street, and completely free. I called my friend but there was no answer. My mind went back to the tuxedo and I thought that my friend was the kind of person that often lacked explanations. I did not think he was dishonest, but something about his personality made it difficult for me to understand if he was telling a joke or the truth.
I dropped my bags at the house and decided to go on a walk down Sunset Boulevard. On the way downhill I passed stray cats posted under parked cars and rubbed my fingers across lavender bushes. I went to the bank and cashed a check from my last job and bought myself an average bagel from Stories. So far the only disappointing thing about California is the quality of the bagels. Like my cabbie, the guy behind the counter was also friendly. I called my parents and let them know I was okay and hoped the statement wasn’t untrue.
I hiked back to the empty apartment and brushed my teeth. Still tired from not sleeping the night before, I took a nap and hoped to wake up with my friend back home. I have no idea what I dreamt about, but it must have been a new kind of dream because when I woke up I didn’t know where I was. It was dark outside and the birds had stopped chirping. I heard distant ambulances and was reminded of Brooklyn. Then it hit me:
This is not the my friend’s apartment. A strange woman lives here and she is out of town. Of course the key was under the welcome mat. Is this the even correct address? How well do I even know my friend? This is or could be a cruel game. This is a lie.
I got out of bed and went to the kitchen. There were oranges rotting in a basket on the table and I had no idea how long they had been there or how long it takes for an orange to grow moldy. I imagined that it would take a very long time because oranges seem like an eternally fresh fruit. I was still trying to stop myself from freaking out but everything in the apartment was covered in dust and colored with my paranoia. Every floorboard creaked and my footsteps in front of the refrigerator sounded like someone clearing their throat in the other bedroom. Another thing I did not understand is why anyone, even if it were 30 years ago, would ever paint a hardwood floor red. Suddenly I noticed all the holes in the walls where pictures used to hang. I tried to call my friend but there was no service in the house. I thought of the standard scene in all horror movies that goes exactly like what was happening.
With no explanation and no bars on my phone, I got a call from my friend. It was now about 10 PM. I wanted to sound gracious and excited and completely unaware that anything might be wrong. I walked outside and left the door open. I stood on top of the stairs leading down to the street and saw a black BMW convertible parallel park a safe distance from a fire hydrant. I had never been so happy to see a car before.
I was overwhelmed to see my friend and to be in California. I was so happy something was happening even though almost nothing had actually happened so far. I had been alone all day and all the drama had been completely internal. All I had actually done was gone to the bank and taken a nap.
Later that night I went out to a bar in Los Feliz and my friend introduced me to every single person at the bar as his new roommate. I met a lot of boys who, like everyone else, were also incredibly friendly. One boy started talking to me and told me his name was Jackson, like Michael Jackson, like his parents had really named him after Michael Jackson. Someone else let me sit on their motorcycle and I wasn’t even drunk.
Later in the week I am going to Malibu and plan to spend the entire day on the beach. I will smoke new era weed and listen to Prince. I will join a band and play the tambourine.
I want to find vestiges from all of my favorite cultural representations of Los Angeles: Joan Didion’s The White Album, Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I still really need to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams and visit the Getty. If anyone is in LA and wants to hang, holler at me. I will probably be at Stories or singing in my new band.