I’m squatting down in a Hollywood liquor store, auditioning the proof count on bottom shelf spirits, because lately I’ve been making some pretty shitty lemonade. On a Friday night, the store is buzzing with mouthy veterans blowing their VA checks, neckbeards preparing to drown their Lakers sorrow, and Desi chicks whose fathers would literally kill them if they saw the way they were dressed. I’m feeling adventurous, so I decide to play Russian roulette with a plastic bottle of vodka I’ve never heard of and make my way to the counter where the Asian lady, who’s been watching me the entire time, was concurrently tending to the group of purple and gold mouth breathers.
In the spring of 2012 I moved to Los Angeles, wide-eyed and dripping pre-cum. After convincing myself that my hometown was deteriorating and alienating all of my friends who I perceived to be holding me back, I worked a holiday season full of overtime and packed my Chevy Impala to brim, throwing a middle finger to the rearview mirror and putting my balls and word on never returning. For two thousand two hundred sixty miles I hummed in triumph until I reached the Pacific Ocean and took a walk along the undulating Fukushima radiation in Venice Beach. It was a new city with new people and new opportunities and I hadn’t figured out what role I was playing yet.
The boulevards are in full effect at night; the sidewalks live with shuffling locals and somnambulant tourist. A bronzed, pendulous-titted trophy wife and her Latin boytoy hop out of her Mercedes, in search of fuel for their liaison. A league of riced up Acuras fart by while a black kid captaining a rusted Civic momentarily drowns out the sounds of the city with inaudible, palpable Gucci Mane. Habibi has been putting an orange $2.00 sticker on the Arizona Iced Teas and the panhandlers are becoming more and more aggressive. I stagger out of the liquor store pretending to be busy on my phone to avoid eye contact, scrolling through a missed call log full of collection agency attempts and my mother’s worries.
A group of teenagers, wearing skull caps for no reason, scrape by on their skateboards. Leggy aspirants with rug-burned kneecaps stumble around in vertiginous heels going the opposite direction. Shower singers seeking record deals shoot around from recording studios to their bartending gigs while Sunday service play thespians sin for a speaking part. Fresh transplants cruise along the side streets squinting at parking signs and beating their dashboards, wasting ten dollars in gas to avoid five dollar parking fees. A lot first time hopefuls pray to God for an opportunity. Even more 100th time rejects pray to Saint Malverde that there dealer come through.
I crack the cap off of the plastic bottle and take a swig of the nail polish remover. I was chasing an abstract screenwriting dream that took me out of the comfort of my full size bed back home at my mother’s house in Atlanta to a sagging twin sized in a converted garage in North Hollywood that I found on Craigslist. It brought me into a social wilderness that I hadn’t prepared myself for. Hundreds of thousands of kids pouring in, all pumped up from the lies architected by movies, music video montages and skilled publicists. Everybody thinking they’re the exception. Maybe they were their small town’s star. Or maybe they were nobody where they were from and thought they could reinvent themselves here. But the city has its own plans. It was conditioned on the commodification of naivety.
We’re living in ground zero of Adam’s transgression. A town washed with Apple device’s Poltergeist glow and neon green crucifixes. Constant hopefuls stay and struggle, becoming career waiters or relegating into a housewife role. The more jaded repatriate with a Suboxone prescription or some souvenir syphilis.
I stumble around its famous boulevard, goose-necking, heaving in and out before introducing the concrete to half digested Animal Fries and Popov to the entertainment of a group of German tourist and various car horns. The lights are glaring around me and I get pissed at myself when I notice my suede Adidas caught shrapnel. Boys Noize’s ‘Inhale/Exhale’ blares out of a Beamer on the other side of the street as I rest my palms on my knees, trying to catch my breath as a long string of mucus pulls from my bottom lip. I waltz around my personal pink, speckled Hollywood Star and continue down the street as if nothing happened.
Rambling like a drunk uncle is becoming common. Scrapping my pipe for resin and fingering crumbs of weed, stray hairs and Korova brownie crumbs on the coffee table and sprinkling it in the pipe is starting to become a regular occurrence. Waking up in the morning and stumbling over hollow grapefruit juice bottles and empty packs of Benadryl happens every day. I’m smoking cigarettes to the butt or snapping up from nodding off with an inch of ash Pisa-ing off. I wake up with receipts and other people’s lighters in my pocket. I jump from subject to subject without ever really finishing a thought.
“Have you seen any celebrities?” They always ask. The hometown friends and family members that I pet with tales of improvement and optimism in place of reality, because when you’ve made such a huge switch, it’s best to pretend it’s all going well. I text them back with a lot of smiling emojis and exclamation points.
The terrazzo and brass is cold and hard. I’m lying supine on the stars, looking up into the blank sky trying to mentally prepare myself to make the trek back home. Unfazed locals maneuver around me while a few tourist gawk in amazement. A European woman with an unplaced accent squats over me, asking if I’m okay and reaching out to me maternally until I childishly smack her hand away. I know that if I really want to make something of myself, I’d have to drag my way through the hellfire. I’d have to trudge through the same muck that the cum-tummied aspirants before me left behind. I’d have to find a way to become the exception. If there’s a higher standard of living available on this pirouetting sphere and I owe it to myself to try to experience it, even if it means dancing on the graves of every moral I once held.
A honking shuttle bus awakens me out of my reverie, giving me the strength to continue. I roll around on my stomach and push myself up on Orson Welles’ star. The shuttle bus queues in traffic, full of white twinks with luxurious hair and tattered backwards hats, presumably going to Bryan Singer’s mansion. Regardless of how at war it seems the world is and how we choose to separate ourselves from others based on race, class, sexuality and stature, we all congregated within these city limits for one reason: entertainment. Everybody from the conniving destitute to the cheating affluent. From the Hindu girls sneaking out of their house in nightclub regalia to the Christian boys douching with the dirty ass, arsenic tap water to let Jesus down for a chance at a cameo in the new X-Men film. We’re all here to create some type of restitution from the normal life given to us, even if it stems from infamy. Even though most of us will end up worse off than we were when we unpacked our bags and others will defile themselves to be put in a better position; we give up the purest parts of us solely for an opportunity.
This is Hollywood after all. One way or another, we all end up getting a rosebud in the end.
*names changed to protect the not so innocent; except mine.