— "June 1939" — Christopher Isherwood, Diaries Vol. 1: 1939-1960 (1996). (via andrewstuntpilot)
I have a dream that night in Joshua Tree: a nuclear bomb has exploded over our heads, right in the middle of the desert. The skyline doesn’t change; it’s still all striated with pink and blue and orange ribbons, a late fall sunset over the Mojave. In my dream, we watch the huge white bloom of the mushroom cloud move towards us. We all go “oooh!” and “ahhh!” It is the apocalypse, but we are in a hot tub and we are unafraid.
I wake up, thinking I have lost something.
I roll over, still fully clothed in jeans, sweatshirt, and thick, long socks. It was cold last night. Nick is snoring next to me on a futon in what’s called the “Project Z”, a tiny one-room shack about a hundred yards outside of the main Hicksville complex. It’s zombie-themed: there is a manual explaining how to survive the apocalypse in a dresser drawer, and glass case on the wall displaying a handgun and a big, thick knife. Ghoulish faces and bloody handprints are painted on the walls. It’s perfect. I slept here not because I wanted to be left alone, but because I wouldn’t have to explain to anybody why.
I get up and pull on my boots. My stomach is swishing about uneasily, and I’m craving water, coffee.
“I’m going outside.”
Nick rumbles a little, then turns over. I open the back door. The view is bare and symmetrical, like a Death Valley Malick, or a Wyeth painting. You know: single Joshua Tree, stalwart against shocking blue sky, endless rocky landscape. It’s like being on the moon of some planet that’s even more beautiful than our own. As I walk, my shoes crunch against the gravel surrounding the perimeter of the complex. The wind feels good, so I take off my sweatshirt and let the cold air find its way under the skin of my thin grey t-shirt.
I make coffee and start to pick up the empty cans and plates and bottles left over from last night’s revelry. Cheddar goldfish are sprinkled all over the property, which makes me smile.
I am the only person here, awake. I am the only person left, alive.
I climb the stairs to the balcony that overhangs the communal space. Nothing but space and sun and mountains and desert, everywhere I look. 360 degrees. I rotate.
But then people start to emerge from their trailers while I’m making another pot of coffee and rummaging through the fridge for breakfast supplies. I peek in on the boys, still sleeping in the big trailer, a huge old Airstream with a living room, full kitchen, and large back bedroom area with the place’s only TV. It’s supposed to be called “The New World,” but somebody rechristened it “Cider House Rules” the night before, after we had brewed up an alcoholic apple cider on the stovetop. It smelled good, and warm.
Everyone’s up. I try to resuscitate some old bagels, but the breakfast burrito bar ends up a better option. Mike and I sit down on the porch outside Cider House for a minute. We have to go home soon. It’s funny, because I barely have a home to go to: I’ve spent the past week moving, boxes of books and clothes and useless kitchen bullshit, carload by carload, across Los Angeles streets slick with rain. I wanted to come this place, I was ready for crisp nights, hot tubs, desert moons. The smell of things grilling. You think you’ll come out to the desert and just look at stars and take some mushrooms and hug your friends, but it always ends up that somebody’s mad at you, or somebody’s heart is breaking, or there’s something about money, or somebody just talks too much and you can’t stand it, and maybe your stomach hurts and you can’t shake a headache. So you just keep taking a walk, pretending like you can identify the constellations, and pretending like nothing exists except —
No. Instead I say, “I’m glad I’m here. It’s been a hard month, you know?”
Mike shakes his head a little and rubs his face. “It’s been a hard year.”
“For everybody,” I say.
“For everybody,” he says.
Anonymous said: Practice makes perfect. Keep writing.
Something new coming soon; watch this space!
Jess: I can’t *believe* you just said that.
Paris: Well it’s true. The Beats’ writing was completely self-indulgent. I have 1 word for Jack Kerouac: Edit.
Jess: It was not self-indulgent, The Beats believed in shocking people, stirring things up.
Paris: They believed in drugs, booze, and petty crime.
Rory: Well, then you could say that they exposed you to a world that you wouldn’t have otherwise known. Isn’t that what great writing is all about?
Rory: That was not great writing. It was the National Enquirer of the 50’s.
Jess: You’re cracked.
Paris: Typical guy response. Worship Kerouac and Bukowski, god forbid you pick up anything by Jane Austin.
Jess: Hey, I’ve read Jane Austin
Paris: You have?
Jess: Yeah, and I think she would have liked Bukowski."
— I can never decide if Paris Geller or Emily Gilmore is my favorite GG character. Liza Weil and Kelly Bishop in ALL THE THINGS!
I wake up on a Sunday morning to church bells ringing. Lou Reed has just died. I am not in my own bed, and I have a headache.
The bells keep calling out. It’s time to go. “All the lonely sinners,” I think. Some lines from the Canterbury Tales get stuck in my head: “the holy blissful martyrs for to seke/that them hath holpen, whan that they were seke.”
I get up and dress, and pet the dogs on my way out. The big German Shepard is old and beautiful, like a rugged cowboy. I run my hands through his rough, thick fur, feeling my way down spine and hipbones. He’s named after a Greek god, but he shoulda been a “John Wayne” or “John Huston,” maybe, or a “Charlton Heston”. The other dog has just died. I could bash my brains out bloody on whatever sadness is all caught up in this place, but who could ever ever ever get to the heart of anything? This is not a place for honesty. I can’t hear anyone stirring in any of the other rooms, and I quietly slip outside and start my car.
It’s still only 9am. There are no other lonely sinners awake yet in the city, so I drive to a Mexican diner on Figueroa. I’ve never been here, but I like the murals painted on the walls outside. La Abeja. Seems friendly. Now the sun is streaming through the early morning October haze and it feels good. I order menudo; I smile and say “no” when the waiter asks if anyone else will be joining me. I read the neighborhood newsletter with a tortilla in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, and smile again when the owner, noticing my hoodie, assures me that he, too, is a UCLA fan. (I forget to tip and it haunts me for weeks.)
And then I get a flashback to the night before: walking into the house, 3am. The door is open but he’s not there. His brother sitting on the couch. He looks so angry. I’m so angry back. My phone keeps pinging, ringing: “where are you?” “Come back here.” “Are you here?” and I don’t know what to do, so I sit on the couch too, for a minute, but I don’t say anything to him, at least not what I want to say, which is: “stop me,” or “why are you letting me do this,” or “please, please, please” but I don’t.
I like listening to the morning begin. I usually wake up at 3 or 4am, an hour inappropriate for anything other than reading or watching nature documentaries on Netflix. Mostly I just drowse in that in-between dream place where all the best ideas and worst nightmares take place. Sometimes I’ll fall asleep again, but sometimes I won’t. I’ll turn on a podcast, smoke a joint.
In those early hours when night turns to morning, I notice the tiniest prickle, the slightest little shift, in the ambient noise that filters through my window. A neighbor gets in his truck every day, like clockwork, right at 5am. Engine starts, idles for a few moments, then slowly pulls out of the driveway. I imagine him off to work, bleary-eyed. “The hours suck but the money is good,” he says to himself. Maybe. I think his kids are the ones that practice skateboard tricks for hours outside my window in the afternoons.
The night starts to lift. It’s not so much a change in the light as a change in the sound of the city: the growing hum of traffic from Robertson and La Cienega. Sometimes a helicopter wavers and buzzes above the boulevards, like a fly.
I go to the kitchen for a glass of water and poke at the cats.
“Hey. HEY.” I do the loud whisper. “Hey buddies. Hey buddies! What are you doing? Being cute? Are you being so cute?”
This infantile speech doesn’t seem to bother them. (They’re cats. They happily eat their own vomit!) But Charlie gets up from his spot on one of the faux-leather chairs in our living room and follows me, leaping into my bed before I can even get back under my covers. He kneads the blanket for a while - “makin’ biscuits!” as my roommate says - then settles with his head resting on the pillow next to me. Like a human might do. I try to remember the last time I spent a whole night sleeping comfortably next to another human. It’s hard. I don’t sleep easy.
Sometime around 6am I’ll fall back asleep, if I’m lucky. The birds outside soundtrack the dawn with their cackle and gossip, but the sunrise comes in peacefully, always. My alarm is Neko Case singing “Magpie to the Morning”. Sometimes if I stand on my bed and look out my bedroom window at just the right angle, I can see the Hollywood sign in the morning light.
“That’s home,” I think. “This is where I live.” Someday I will not always be so tired.