I made a new website.
It’s called NOT REALLY A BLOG.
It’s where you’ll find my online writing from now on. So, you can stop holding your breath for new blog posts here.
Jerome was a business man. His eyes were desperate. Umemployment was killing him.
“Need Job,” read the scrappy cardboard sign he’d found in the props department, before that dumb bitch PA spotted him and called studio security. They escorted him off the lot in a golf cart.
“No, please,” Jerome pleaded. “Just give me another chance. I’m a business man, I swear it!”
The security guards laughed. Jerome ran one shaking hand through his ruffled yet nonthreatening hair.
“I know I’m not wearing a tie,” he cried. “I’m umemployed for Chrissakes! Look into my eyes, see how desperate they are! At least let me keep this ragged cardboard sign! I need job!”
The guards tore the sign from his grasp because it was needed on set. Jerome wept.
Long before I was born, my family enjoyed sitting together and doing their homework. My sister Eloise, who was called Samantha in those days, spoke of it as a happy time.
“Oh, the family, we’d sit and do our homework together for hours,” she explained after I turned 17, offering me a swig of gin from the flask she kept hidden from the nurses. It tasted the way the darkroom smells and burned like hell.
“Sitting,” she murmured. “Sitting, together. Doing homework, together.”
Eloise’s eyes grew moist and distant. “I wish you could’ve seen how happy Mom looked as she extended her left index finger to point out whatever was beside my purple pen.”
My head was spinning from the gin. “You miss ’em, don’t you?”
Eloise nodded. “Every day, baby brother. Every goddamn day.”
Mr. Seymour clucked his tongue. His voice was cautious, skeptical.
“Well, Nina,” he said. “You’re a cute female. No doubt about it. And that’s a girl guitar, alright. But I just don’t know what to make of you. Are you a guitarist?”
“Oh, I am, Mr. Seymour, I am,” Nina replied, with a sly smile. “Don’t be fooled by the awkward way I’m holding this acoustic instrument.”
She repositioned the guitar and with her cute girl hands began plucking a melody. It was feminine and acoustic. Mr. Seymour closed his eyes. Soon his face grew slack and pale. His lips turned blue. Nina continued playing until he twitched and slumped forward in his chair. Air wheezed from his throat.
“Mr. Seymour?” Nina hugged the guitar close. She peered up from beneath her ugly, floppy brown hat.
“There,” Nina said to the empty room. “It’s done.”
A tiny red light began blinking on the security camera. Mr. Seymour’s body jerked as life escaped it.
Marcia was beautiful and young, a girl among women. She was always laying in the grass. As the village changed and outsiders moved in, Marcia still lay in the grass every day. Her beautiful young body, wrapped in shapeless pink, was a beacon of early womenhood on the vast hillside lawn.
But one day the outsiders began building on the hillside. Their great yellow machines pawed the grass and tore it up. By some miracle or simple oversight, a single patch of grass was left untouched – Marcia’s patch, where she lay beautifully. Youthfully.
The grass grew long and sheltered Marcia as the outsiders erected great shining towers and sprawling cities. Soon Marcia was hidden from view. She became a flicker in the fading minds of the old villagers who remained.
When they died, Marcia lay in the grass and was forgotten.
It was 2 AM on a Friday night – well, Saturday morning – in Hollywood in February. I was staring down the last half of a grilled cheese sandwich at Cafe 101 while my friends giggled and poured Tabasco sauce into a dented tin of coffee creamer, daring each other to try it.
They did try it. They said it tasted “like spicy milk.”
That description seemed very important at the time so I scribbled it down in my notebook with an underline for emphasis. I was wearing my new Davey Crockett cap and my head felt warm. My friends insisted that I try the spicy milk.
“You have to try this,” they said. “It’s like milk, but spicy!”
“Fine, fine. I’m trying it.”
Took me five minutes to do the deed. Laughter kept spurting out of me each time I got the tin up to my lips, and you can’t drink when you’re laughing. Finally I found the courage to steady my hand, drink just a little sip. It did taste like spicy milk, I admitted.
And spicy milk tastes disgusting.
I got up to go to the bathroom and saw a man at the counter wearing an eye patch, eating alone. Steak, I think. Maybe meatloaf. The waitress said something to him and he just nodded once, real slow, without looking up. He had a single silver key hooked to the back loop of his jeans.
Then “Blood Buzz Ohio” came on over the jukebox and the CD started to skip at the part that goes I never thought about love. Nobody else seemed to notice.
I never thought about love, I never thought about love, I never thought about love
There were two women in the bathroom when I entered. One was skeletal thin, the other spherically fat. They were talking about the best place for real hot chocolate because the skinny one had ordered it here and it was thin and grainy like the stuff from a cheap packet.
They stopped mid-sentence when they saw me and squinted at the dead raccoon tail swept across my shoulder.
“It’s fake,” I reassured them.
The two women left.
I ran the faucett and sloshed the water to rinse the taste of spicy milk out of my mouth. I looked at myself in the mirror. Took the hat off. Put the hat on again.
When I turned off the water, I could hear that the song had stopped skipping. I never thought about love when I thought about home.
I realized it was my birthday.
In Los Angeles, many adventures begin with a long drive through desolation. My life’s latest chapter opens with traffic dripping sluggishly onto the 101 N at Western Ave., then speeding up the 170 and slamming the brakes among the I-5’s fleet of tanker trucks and big rigs. In my rear-view mirror, the traffic comes like an endless metal ocean, crashing down and sweeping me along.
The route to Santa Clarita cuts through vast beige shopping centers and scrubby hillsides, crudely sutured together by industrial development and the countless truck paths. Driving there takes less than an hour but feels longer.
KCRW pledge drivers urge me along in masturbatory tones, talking about free T-shirts and lobster dinners. And a New York man, they say, who has filled his apartment with over 600 empty pizza boxes and, of course, received a book deal for it.
I arrive for my first day at my new job. A friendly factory worker waves me in. For all I can tell, she’s nothing but a smiling face mounted to a swath of sterile white fabric. She peels back a plastic curtain and disappears.
I’m not allowed to follow. There are FDA guidelines.
But I get a fleeting tour of the shipping warehouse, a micro city of towering shelves and tightly sealed blue drums bearing labels like Chocolatey Kiss and Acai Berry Shimmer. I feel a euphoric dose of pure black-tar absurdity shoot into my veins. Will anyone believe me? Is this really where I work, or have I suddenly transcended into a Christopher Guest movie?
In the office upstairs, there are giant sexy models smoldering at me from just about every wall. Boxes sit in one corner full of empty glass tubes and jars and spritzer bottles. Samples of all the different containers available to us.
My coworkers are cheerful. My new boss is Canadian. Her subtle accent on words like “house” and “sorry” brings me back to summers at the lake in rural Ontario, and the long dead paternal grandfather I’ve sometimes imagined. It’s a bit weird to think of family while I flip the pages of a sex toy catalog at my desk.
After lunch, I begin studying a more literal language of love. I start a Word doc that grows impossibly long with adjectives. Sensual. Flirty. Spicy. Fun. Scintillating. Tantalizing. Alluring. Seductive. Irresistible. Steamy. Wild.
I open Dictionary.com, too, and finally learn what “essential oils” are. Turns out they aren’t essential to anything but ad copy. Later, most of my words will be translated into six different languages for EU compliance.
In the bathroom, the soap we use is aphrodisiac-infused lingerie wash for the sensual TLC your intimates deserve and the hand lotion is scented with the arousing tropical fragrance of camu camu. It smells a little like play-doh.
As I return to my desk, I pass coworkers flipping pages on a clipboard, verifying inventory SKUs in flat serious voices. “Seduce Me, Tease Me, Kiss Me, Lay Me Down.” “Check, check, check — wait, hold on, okay, check.”
I realize I’ve come a long, long way from the nervous virgin who trembled at the thought of simply kissing someone, and my drive home feels shorter.
It begins at Canter’s, where we wondered aloud if Locks of Love furnishes merkins, then dissolves and fades back in on the farthest stretch of the eastbound 210 on a spontaneous trip to Joshua Tree.
We speed through suburban decay, listening to our breath and the road and fuzzy AM radio that goes on and on about gunshot wounds and Jesus and sovereign living and snippets of some ancient foreign chant bleeding between each station.
The hour is too dark to see the bleak, scrubby palette of the Inland Empire. Everything is a vague outline coated in orange-black glow, a veil of light pollution as we speed through San Bernadino and pass alongside an Indian casino. Will cracks a window briefly. There is a smell in the air that we can’t quite place.
The hills guarding the desert are dotted with blinking red eyes. Giant elegant windmills, swooping asynchronously, vastly tall and silent. We can just see their shadowy outlines against the night.
Then suddenly it’s midnight and we’re driving on Highway 62. We stop at the Institute of Mentalphysics.
Then we’re inside a 24 Hour Wal-Mart as big as a city. It’s filled with rows upon rows of adult-sized fleece onesies. Of bullets they won’t sell after 10 PM. Of thick rubber bathmats adorned with all the noble beasts – wolf and bear and stag. Spirits of the forest waiting to be trod upon by fat wet feet.
We leave the Wal-Mart, just as we left the Institute of Mentalphysics, without buying anything.
We sleep at a Super 8 Motel that makes Marco nervous, where they serve watery coffee and cinnamon rolls for breakfast the next day. The cinnamon rolls are individually wrapped in Super 8-branded plastic and are beloved by large old men in NASCAR shirts.
At the edge of the Yucca Valley swap meet, there’s a large shack called Dakota Bob’s where they sell ranch hand boots and cowboy curios. The ceiling is corrugated tin, cut up in the back where live-oaks grow tall and dark and skinny.
There’s a cluster of broken pianos by the porch outside, leaning against each other for support. The keys have been stripped by wind and bleached by the unyielding sun. Will maneuvers around a splintery guard-rail and taps a few notes, strums the exposed wires. The discordant music rises with the desert heat.
Inside the shack, we meet Cathy. Cathy wears rainbow nursing scrubs with pictures of horses on them. She works at Dakota Bob’s and doesn’t have too many teeth left, but still she’s got one of the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen. At 62, she met the love of her life while nursing her dying mother in a trailer park in Lucerne Valley.
While her whole life story continues bubbling out like champagne, Cathy’s Love drops in to pick up the keys to the truck they share. He gives her a quick shy kiss and beams and dashes away again. He’s off to get the pump for his new saltwater fish tank, Cathy says.
We say goodbye to Cathy and wander the swap meet for a while. The air is ghosted with hot dust and mildew and cigarette smoke. Every kind of swap meet junk you could imagine is sweating on plaid blankets and old canvas tarps laid out in the sun.
Then the day takes us to an honest to god pancake jamboree at the International Crochet Museum.
A leathery woman in a prairie dress is flipping the pancakes on a wide griddle stove converted from an engine block while a man in patched overalls heaps fresh fruit onto a tray. There’s hot black coffee, too, and it tastes much better than Super 8’s. Someone drops a pancake and an old yellow dog scrabbles out from under the table to eat it.
We eat the pancakes and drink the coffee and get back into the car to follow Marco and Christy’s directions. Go south. Go east. Sail down the highway to Neptune Road. Turn at the sign for BAIL BONDS, 888-UN-CUFF-U. You will see hills. Take a short but twisty hiking trail at the base of the hills.
This leads us to one of the mysterious High Desert Test Sites, where I meditate inside a hand-crocheted blue teepee until a lonesome and persistent bumblebee decides to join me.
I step outside and listen to the wind. It eventually slows and eventually ceases and the silence burns your ears just as much as the sun burns your skin. Each step forward is deafening but the sand is surprisingly soft underfoot.
Ephemeral Joshua trees stand all around me, stretching long shadows toward the horizon. Marco and Christy are gone. Will is hidden among the boulders making music. Ahead of me, a single pale orange flower unfurls its blossoms to the sky.
I pick another direction and walk deeper into the desert.