It wasn’t until we had actually arrived in the heart of Los Angeles that I had really started to regret my decision to go. As soon as I walked out of the car the city hit me dead in the face. It’s ventricles pumped out hot garbage that stung my nostrils as arterial scum seeped into the gutters. The wailing of sirens echoed off the alleys and their song rang on in my ears. The sheer weight of millions of people condensed into a few miles of metal, brick, cardboard, and concrete was felt in your very bones; but you breathed it all in because it reminded you that you and this city were alive.
Los Angeles had never sat right with me. Even when I was still a child the place always had a strange kind of energy to it. It felt as if you could feel the cumulative failures of thousands of stars that just never burned bright enough. The city itself seemed to feed off dying dreams.
You felt all of this way before your father was driven temporarily insane after being sentenced to eight hours of straight gridlock traffic and beat you in the passenger seat. You knew something was wrong with this town way before you walked down Sunset Blvd with a chill in your gut and your mom said those bad vibrations you were feeling was just the presence of demons attracted by sin and the Scientologists.
L.A, you never stood a chance.
CJ had found a girl online on some dating site that lived in the city, but it was Johnny who said they should set something up tonight. The idea of drinking there on a Friday night didn’t appeal to me but their company did, so I stowed away in the back seat and sang out loud and off key when a good song came on. I was trying to psyche myself up. Anything could happen in the next few hours.
We walked towards the bar and the streets were eerily empty, what with it being the busiest night of the week in a big city and all. But it didn’t bother me.
A couple blocks down I saw two men and a tiny dog standing over something. It was the body of a homeless woman sprawled on top of the gutter. She wasn’t waking up. That didn’t bother me either.
The men huddled over her were gay and full of worry and compassion. Even their little dog with it’s pink leash was gay, it had no say in the matter. They spoke in soft worried voices on their phones trying to get help and get her to open her eyes. The woman’s body was half in the street and half on the sidewalk. She was older, not old, but she didn’t seem to be very much alive.
The sirens would soon be singing their song for her too.
Walking passed them I somehow found a way to make a joke about it. We all laughed and looking back, I don’t know why.
The bar was called the Golden Steer or the Yellow Bovine, something relating to colored cows or false idols. A giant of a Mexican with a face that looked like it’d been chiseled straight from the pavement asked for our ID’s. With my friends already inside he stopped me extra long just because he could. He told me he needed to check my purse. I told him I didn’t have a purse. Then it hit me, it was my long hair — funny guy…
I walked through the door and suddenly the empty streets made more sense. As dozens of smells and sounds flew at me and my eyes adjusted to the darkness I had never seen more people in my life shoved into such a small space. It was one writhing mass of overly exposed flesh and tilted baseball caps. The instinct to flee screamed so loud in me I heard nothing else, but somehow I found my feet following my friends.
I decided I was going to have a good time. I was going to be happy there regardless of what I thought about it and goddammit, I was going to be out of my head.
It was so crowded you had to force your way to the bar and you were always being touched. Like an obstacle course of limbs. The crazy part to me was I was the only one in the entire place who seemed to be unhappy about it.
The bar was long and narrow and far beyond its max occupancy. It was clearly a Hispanic joint that went back and forth from blaring top 40 club hits to Banda music. Everywhere you looked were people within a centimeter of each other’s faces. Claustrophobia does not even begin to describe it, but it’s a start.
It took a good two minutes just to fight your way to the bar and when you got there, you stayed there, and you ordered two drinks at a time. The beer was flat and stale and again, I was the only one who seemed the least bit bothered by it all. Maybe I was crazy.
I had to push the thought of not being able to escape out of my head, my anxiety nearing a dangerous level as a large woman’s back was pressed against mine while some man’s arm rested at my shoulder–so I asked CJ to show me what this girl he was meeting looked like. She had a cute face and looked fit from the angles she decided to show. She wore glasses that housed big brown eyes and rested atop a small button nose above full red lips. She was on her way to meet us and had just gotten off the freeway.
Pushing back the screaming notion of stabbing the large woman behind me repeatedly, I congratulated him on what looked like an otherwise fine catch.
I told CJ I would be the designated driver, to drink his fill and have fun. So I was pacing myself with only a couple of the awful flat beers and what had to have been the cheapest tequila north of the border. Every other friend I knew had a DUI, driving in California is dangerous business, even without the drink in your blood. He was surprised by my offer. “Are you saying that because you actually want me to have a good time, or do you just not trust me to drive!?” “Both.”
If his battered Ford was any indication, CJ was an absolutely horrible driver, especially when he was sober.
A couple stale beers later and his girl showed up. All three of us are over six feet tall, finding us wasn’t difficult in that bar overflowing with Angelinos. In person she was cute, but thicker than she looked in her photographs. That’s the thing with meeting people on the internet, they almost always look better in the pictures. When you are going out with a catch you met online, six to one odds they are not what they sold themselves to be. When you are online dating you are really playing Russian roulette, but loneliness and a need for a body makes you keep pulling back the trigger.
She brought two friends with her to help break the ice, each one bigger than the last, the last being so big that I was forced to wonder how the hell she had managed to fit in the place at all. The woman behind me had now apparently decided I was a permanent pillar while another limb, whose origins were blissfully unknown, was becoming more and more familiar with my thigh. Introductions were made and I forgot their names right after they said them. I didn’t care because I knew I’d never see them again. But I smiled anyway and offered a shot to whoever wanted it first. In spite of all of this, I was still desperately trying to have a good time. The not-so-fat-but-still-fat one took the offer. She had a great smile and she even said thank you. As I handed her the shot, I spilled a bit of the tequila on the fat one’s shoes. I apologized repeatedly and sincerely but she seemed pretty damn upset about it.
I didn’t know what the big deal was. It’s not like she could see her feet anyway. I didn’t feel at all bad. Her personality was as lousy as her diet. There is no hope for ugly people with ugly personalities and though it didn’t seem to stop her, I knew somewhere inside all of that flesh, she knew that too.
In between the sounds of bass lines, auto tuned voices, and the people yelling over me for drinks, I tried to talk to Johnny and CJ, but it was almost impossible to hear anything over the speakers and my impaired hearing. CJ was focusing on impressing his girl and Johnny was making small talk with the not-so-fat-but-still-fat one while the fat one just stood there, angry at the world for making her fat.
More and more I was feeling a sense of urgency to flee. I couldn’t understand how no one else seemed to be panicking. It seemed insane to me how everyone could be even remotely content crammed into that bar like cattle with nothing but shit beer and cheap tequila to drink.
Everywhere around me I saw this look of sheer bliss on everyone; the mirror behind the bar showed me I looked nothing like them.
That was it, I told Johnny I’d be outside if they needed me. “I can’t do this anymore.” He knew me well enough to understand and nodded respectfully. In spite of the ocean of bodies I swam out the door in ten seconds.
The dull roar of the dive was finally silenced as the door slammed shut behind me and the quiet of the street greeted me like an old friend. I decided I wasn’t crazy after all for wanting to leave. It was the people in there who suffered that madness with smiles on their faces who were insane. Still, even after fleeing that asylum, I couldn’t help but feel like I had somehow failed.
I took a seat on the curb and laid my chin on my knees. I tried not to listen to the voices of the drunks ordering hot dogs and puking simultaneously behind me. I tried to get the image of the human zoo out of my head. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to be somewhere else or be some one else.
I didn’t know what I was feeling sitting there on that curb, but I bet that woman lying in the gutter could have told you.
Who knows how long I sat there wrapped up in blues in that dirty gutter, I just remember hearing Johnny call my name. I snapped out of it and got up and followed them down the crooked sidewalk as it rose and fell broken from all the earthquakes. The girls were bragging about how many drinks they had, in case the boys had forgotten. I looked up and saw no stars, just a lonely waning moon lighting up the hillside. “That’s a full moon if I ever saw one.” One of the girls said.
“That’s not a full moon. The full moon is tomorrow.”
“Pft, that’s a full moon.”
“No, trust me–it isn’t…”
I could tell they were all really starting to like me.
The girls wanted to dance and the guys would follow the girls until they got their opening. I heard them all talking as they stumbled on ahead. I wasn’t listening but I smiled when I was supposed to and laughed when I should have laughed. You learn when to laugh at the right times and you’ll live forever.
We got to the front of this building that was painted solid black with no windows that just said ‘Bar’ in neon lights. There was a line to get in the place. I didn’t believe anyone should ever have to wait in line just to get a drink, but I waited with them anyway. The night could still be saved. The next big story, the great love of my life could be inside of those doors for all I knew.
I walked through the doors and found a booth as far back in the place as I could possibly get and we had a whole corner to ourselves to breathe. The girl’s friends wanted to dance and Johnny followed them happily in drunken faith. CJ and his girl stayed at the booth with me and he offered me a drink. Somehow right then whiskey sounded more like poison than medicine. He went to the bar, leaving just me and his girl at the booth.
Her dress came down to her thighs leaving nothing but leg, yet there was nothing sexual about it. That dress made her feel uncomfortable, vulnerable even as she fidgeted trying to get it just right. I feel for women sometimes, I really do.
She looked over at me looking at her. “You are not having any fun at all, are you?”
“No.” It just came out and I was surprised I didn’t lie. Then I felt sort of sorry for her. I studied her for a couple seconds to find something I could bring up and tried to talk to her about a tattoo she had on her thigh to make conversation. I knew how I must have looked to her and I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s time. The tattoo was a portrait of a singer I loved but when I got excited and tried to talk to her about him, she answered in short responses. She had made up her mind about me, she was done and hell, I couldn’t blame her.
Johnny and the girls came back. “These girls can’t dance!”
“Do you dance?” they asked me.
“No. I can’t go in there! I am an epileptic, those lights will give me a seizure.”
Johnny and CJ were the only ones who laughed. The girls didn’t care if I was being serious or not. I could tell they thought I was stuck up. Maybe I was. The truth is I was a terribly lonely person who just wanted to be left alone and I was trying to sort out how the hell that was possible.
So they all left me in the booth to celebrate each others drunkenness. I wondered what I looked like standing there alone to the people around me but no one noticed. It was one in the morning and everyone’s bellies but mine was full of the drink. The booth across from me held up two bodies, a man and a woman kissing each other and fumbling in and out of passion. For whatever reason I wondered if he loved her and I could tell from the way she studied his face when his tongue receded that she was asking herself the same thing.
The music stopped and the lights came on guiding everyone out of the club en masse. Outside people stumbled slack mouthed over the broken sidewalks. Small boys with big mouths tried to start fights to prove to the world they were still men. Women in short dresses stole glances at me while still on the arms of their paramours. I watched as predators sober as judges stole easily suggestible bodies away into the night in yellow carriages while stone faced cops circled and prowled around the curbs in their black and white like lions in the tall grass looking for anyone to break away from the herd.
I looked around at the dispersing crowd and asked myself if this was it. If these late nights were the highlight of our lives. I saw these lost people had found themselves in lives they could only enjoy when they were in the process of escaping them. Escaping the responsibility of success handed down to them generation by generation by an unknown author. Running far away from the soul crushing jobs that fueled their petty stations and nocturnal enterprises. Their wed locked spouses and hungry children. Their problems with God. Fleeting dreams and neglected ambitions. Escaping their very consciousness. Drowning out the voice that would otherwise be screaming, “Why!?”
I longed to be counted among them, because I was a part of them, in their communal bliss. I didn’t want my mind. I didn’t know who put it there or where these thoughts came from. I didn’t want my eyes to see these things as they were. I wanted to find beauty in this! I wanted pure requited simplicity. I wanted this to be enough because I had no other answers.
I knew nothing else.
We were walking back towards our cars when I found myself suddenly far ahead of the group. As I looked up from the cracks, my mind was anywhere but there with them. It was on the battered surface of the moon 200,000 miles away, looking down at our lonely blue world wondering if it was really going to make it.
I saw the cracks in the broken pavement and suddenly I wanted the tectonic plates below the earth to shift and collide together so violently that the San Andreas fault-line would burst open and it’s hungry mouth would send dear Los Angeles screaming into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The skyline sparkled in the distance and I wanted nothing more than to see it all submerged in the sea.
We went wrong somewhere, I thought. We have got it terribly, terribly wrong.