We’ve got our recruits, and our green mohair suits

Bob Hope International Airport, Friday afternoon.

Who names an airport after Bob Hope? Can’t they name it after some long-dead Mexican saint like everything else in Southern California?

They make you deplane outside, like in the Third World. The terminal is squat, rectangular, and looks like it was built in the late sixties. As does the rest of LA, as far as I can tell.

It’s grey and tepid out on the tarmac. Overcast, smoggy, ugly. The colors here, the colors on everything are either drab, bleached imitations or gawdy, violent exaggerations. Sallow beiges and seizure-inducing maroons. It’s like LA was a movie filmed in black and white then converted to color, poorly, like they did with Night of the Living Dead.

LA is the worst place on Earth. I fucking hate it here.

Fuck. At least it’s warm.

I sat on my suitcase out front for forty minutes until Jo picked me up. There’d been some bad business involving open flames and hazardous waste in her house, so she was delayed.

Five minutes and we were on the freeway, driving ninety miles an hour into the belly of the beast.

——–

Greater Los Angeles is not really a city. Non-residents like myself refer to it as such, but in reality it’s more a boundless, unending shitsprawl made up of tiny fiefdoms and hamlets. Small, rotten pieces stitched together haphazardly into a somewhat-functional monster, like fucking Frankenstein.

My normally razor-sharp sense of direction and geography deserts me down here, likely as a result of both mind and spirit recoiling in horror at the sights and sounds around me. Everything south of Oxnard and north of Mexico is just one blurred, foul miasma in my mind. Highland Park. Santa Monica. Silverlake. South Central. Eagle Rock. Bleakdale. Desparation Flats. Western Shitgully.

Left at the Salvadorean sushi restaurant, right at the four-story neon Scientology sign, U-turn at the piles of burning garbage and corpses…

I’m perpetually fucking lost. I don’t even try.

At some point, winding along some crowded fucking highway, I take a deep breath of exhaust fumes and lean my seat back. Two Tunisian dudes hawking oranges and stuffed animals wander amongst the creeping, idling cars. Jolene is talking about hospital rotations.

I am weary beyond my years.

I close my eyes and listen to the shouting Africans and blaring horns. Inside, ancient pressures reach a threshold. Grinding, rusted machinery shudders and dies. Something snaps, almost audibly.

I open my eyes.

“… so the other six Med students start with Peds and then go to Surgery in August, but our group”
“Jolene.” I interrupt.
“What?”
“It’s good to see you.”
“You too, friend.”
“Yes. Yes indeed. Let’s go drink a fucking beer.”

I smile like a hyena as we lurch out onto the gravel shoulder, gunning it for the next exit.

Fuck you LA. Let’s do this.

——-

We meet up with her medschool friends to play ultimate frisbee at a park in some obscenely rich townlet called San Marino. There’s a law that you can’t park your car on the street or in your driveway at night here, the rationale being that banning these behaviors helps keep poor people, minorities, and other unsavories out of the area.

We play ultimate for two hours or so. Her friends are nice folks, the kind of genuine all-american kids you expect to find wearing lab coats and attending private school. They make nerdy medicine jokes I don’t understand. I get sunburned, and talk about how strange it is to be outside without a jacket on.

The park is a wide, sweeping lawn with little stands of palm trees scattered tastefully here and there. Rich people play with their babies in the shade. The grass is perfectly manicured, but the second we start jogging around building up a sweat, we’re swarmed by flies. You have to keep moving or they start to accumulate on your bare skin, buzzing and foul.

That’s what Los Angeles is: pristine lawns and swarms of black flies.

——–

We head back to Jo’s apartment in South Pasadena and drink a few beers on her back porch in the evening sun. She lives in a nice condo with Adrienne, a boxy two-story across from some abandoned housing experiment called the Ostritch Farm.

Jolene tells me about her schizophrenic octogenarian landlord, a crazy woman who comes by every few days to peer in the windows and scream at the neighbors for letting their dachshunds poop in the iceplant.

“We’ve found her looking in the bathroom window several times, up on a chair.”

“That shit’s illegal you know. You could call the cops.”

“Forget that, what if she falls? She’s older than god. She’ll break a hip at best, at BEST.” Jolene, ever the concerned doctor. “She could die at any moment.”

“You’d have to bury her body in some ditch out in the desert. If anyone found out she was dead, your fault or otherwise, you’d get evicted and they’d bulldoze this place to build a yoga studio and oxygen bar.”

“Too true.”

Her neighborhood has only four condos in it. The rest is random businesses and empty eucalyptus groves. Accustomed as I am to the draconian zoning laws of SF, the lack of separation between business and residential districts is very disorienting. I can never tell where the hell we’re going; all the taquerias and apartment complexes blur together.

I imagine the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, a cobwebbed ruin inhabited only by rats and weeds. After years of being threatened and bribed and harassed by studio executives wanting to paint their geodesic domehouses pink and Vietnamese roachcoaches wanting to take the wheels off their vans and call them restaurants, they just gave up back in the 1950s. Fuck it, they said one day after approving a 100 foot statue of Hugh Hefner’s wang for Venice Beach, just build whatever you want.

It’s been a free-for-all since then.

——-

We end up at a place called the Good Luck Bar by midnight, reconvening with med students. Apparently med students are as xenophobic as Mennonites; I’m consistently the only outsider.

The place is all red inside, like a darkroom, and the decor is Chinese. I keep drunkenly referring to it as the Joy Luck Club, and am curtly corrected. We order Singapore Slings, which are god awful and taste like kid’s cherry cough syrup.

People around us are having LA conversations. Not to be confused with regular conversations. In a regular conversation, you take turns talking and listening. In an LA conversation, you talk loudly so people around you will overhear what you say and marvel at your coolness, and when you’re not talking you don’t listen, you just wait for your turn to talk.

We order beers to wash down the taste of the terrible cocktails, and I talk to Jo’s friends about all manner of shit. It’s a good time. We get blitzed.

At one point, the two dudes from Flight of the Conchords walk in. Genuine celebrities.

Now my life is complete, I say. I came to Los Angeles and saw famous people.

I can die happy.

——-

We hike up some mountain near Hollywood the next day. It’s not really a park, I don’t think, it’s just that the trails up to the top are too steep for the homeless to bother with encampments. Hundreds of people jog up and down the mountain, most with dogs. There’s dog shit everywhere. Carrying a plastic bag is so unhip. Jolene and I laugh as a bulimic blond tries in vain to kick enough trail dust over her chihuahua’s poop to cover it.

We get to the top and look out into the haze and endless human wasteland. What a weird place.

“That’s the Capitol Records building.”

“Looks like a grain silo.”

“Some days you can see the ocean. Not today.”

“Not today. It’s weird to see this little piece of ‘nature’ out here.”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t even imagine what LA was like before all this. Just miles and miles of hilly scrub desert.”

“LA actually has a really interesting history, you know? From farmland to studios to cities and back again… definitely one of the most fascinating places in California.” Jo says.

“I’m sure it does. It’s too fucking weird not to.”

I make a mental note to do some research. We walk back down the mountain, laughing at the socialite guys jogging in designer jeans and the stumbling girls who cry involuntarily as they sweat their makeup down into their eyes. We look at the mansions and the hovels.

God damn it’s good to get out of SF for a while, I tell Jo. That place is a fucking black hole.

I feel like I’m on safari.

——–

Jolene was participating in the med school vs law school waterpolo game on the main USC campus. It takes us a while to find the pool.

I sat on the edge of the pool and clapped, talking with the refs. I was the only fan in attendance.

The doctors trounced the lawyers, 13-1. It was a route.

Such was my first Trojan sports event. A woo awoooooo.

———

That night, we got dressed up and went to a guy named Juan’s birthday party up in the hills somewhere. Winding, narrows streets, amazing views. Money territory.

I tied my wrinkled, stained tie successfully in only four attempts. A personal best.

The house was epic, of course. Had a manmade creek in the yard and shit. I’ll never understand the wealthy, I think to myself, but neither will I hesitate to attend their parties and drink their beer.

The party was pretty subdued. Board examinations loom, and though discussing studying etc. is taboo at social functions, you can tell most of these kids have their minds on bigger things than flip cup and small talk. Half the people have given up drinking entirely until their tests are over, the other are drinking twice as hard until their tests are over.

I’m just along for the ride.

I play beirut against a couple girls named Katie, and listen politely to knots of people talking about hormone receptors and carcinoma and drug resistant TB. One track mind motherfuckers. Not that I have room to criticize. If engineers were sociable enough to throw parties, there’d be just as much monotonous shop talk.

Somebody brings another outsider, a fuckstick named Ethan who is just golden. This guy is LA to me, to a fucking T. I’ve met Ethans every time I’ve ever come down. It’s like Southern California has this one prolific, archetypal breed of douchebag rarely encountered outside of its natural habitat.

Ethan’s in his early thirties and is hanging out with twenty-four year olds. He says he’s a ‘non-practicing attorney’ which means he’s unemployed. He’s loud as fuck. He wears one of those little green military hats, and walks around asking people for a cigarette.

He asks if he can invite his ‘other friends’ to the party. For Ethan, every laugh is a courtesy laugh.

He’s so fucking awful to be around that he actually wraps around and becomes awesome to hang out with. I just watch him, laughing and marveling, as he wanders from group to group searching for someone that will listen to him fucking spout off about nothing for more than ten seconds. The partygoers flee before him, girls especially. They’ve got a better sense for avoiding shits like Ethan.

He corners Chris, and after wandering off for a while, I return to find them in the same spot, Chris still nodding politely and watching desperately over Ethan’s shoulders for someone to rescue him. Chris steps purposefully toward me and I lunge into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. Fuck that, Chris. I feel bad for you but you’re on your own. I hear him knocking on the door.

“Hey Trevor you in there? I need to use the bathroom, and I was just telling Ethan here what an interesting guy you are. He wants to meet you.” I hear him jiggling the doorhandle.

Oh hell no. I pound my Tecate and weasel my skinny ass out the tiny two-foot window, climbing up onto the second story balcony. A couple of people are up there, med students I don’t know. I throw my leg over the banister and walk towards the door.

“Evening folks. Just… just checking the place out. Exploring. Great party.”

They stare at me. I vanish safely into house.

Downstairs, in the kitchen, I cruise around looking for Jolene. Ethan leaps out of the shadows.

“Fuck.” I say. Ethan and his ilk never listen; their ears are vestigial, so my faux pas goes unnoticed.

“Hey, you’re Trevor right? Chris said you might have a cigarette, you know, since you’re the only non-doctor here. Besides me, you know.”

“Yeah no, sorry dude. Smoking’s punishable by taser up in SF.”

“That’s great. I’m working on this screenplay with some old Pepperdine friends of mine and”

Motherfucker! Fucking Ethan. I hate these god damn people. I watch the people around me head tactfully for the doors after glancing in my direction. Fuck LA. No fucking class, ditching me with this tool. I’m an out of town guest god damnit.

“…just to find out she’s only been divorced for like three days. Can you believe that? Three days. So naturally I didn’t tell her I already had a kid down in Chula Vista…’

Fucking jesus bikeriding christ. Ugh.

“…so I tell him methadone is just kid shit, you know? Everyone knows Heath was caught up in a druidic cult…”

I look wide-eyed over Ethan’s shoulder, and point.

“Holy fuck is that Jude Law!?”

He turns to look, still spewing his fucking chatter, and I silently step backwards, climbing into the huge refrigerator and crouching down under a shelf full of MGD. Thank god I’m skinny and flexible. I huddle in the pitch dark fridge, claustrophobic and cold, for several minutes.

I wonder if I’ll asphyxiate.

I can’t hear if he’s still out there.

Can’t come out too early, Trevor. He might be waiting. It might be a trap.

——–

Several minutes later, Adrienne opens the door. I fall out at her feet, gasping and shivering. She gives a surprised yelp.

“Hi.”

I stand up, compose myself, grab a beer.

“That Ethan guy was following me. I had to hide.”

She nods knowingly. LA people understand. They deal with this shit every day.

I rejoin the party once I overhear that he’s left, gone to meet up with his friends in West Hollywood at a dive bar.

——–

Sunday we cruised around. Ate at some overcrowded underground hotspot restaurants. Bought some cds. Watched a movie. Talked about life while we looked for parking spots, cussing at drivers and pedestrians alike.

We contemplated going to the beach, but the sky stayed an ugly gray and the wind was up.

I was back freezing my ass off in San Francisco by midnight.

All in all not a bad trip, as far as LA goes.

-T.

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