A few things came together that made it so that when I returned to LA from New York on the 3rd of December, I didn’t have a place to stay. Which ended up sounding worse than it was and being worse than I imagined. I had to make it to the New Year when I’d be able to snatch up a room at an agreeable price. I was prepared or so I thought, even mildly excited for the adventure of it. That was childish thinking because it stopped feeling “adventurous” very fast.
When my good friend and I touched down, we went to baggage claim and waited for our things to come around. She ordered an uber, offered to drop me off at “home” which used to be on the way to hers, but I refrained and said I’d walk or whatever, that it was too close for her to deviate. We said our goodbyes and I walked to the large international terminal at the curve of the horseshoe shaped airport.
The thing about Tom Bradley International is that it’s huge. The ceiling has to be a couple hundred feet tall or something wild like that. Wikipedia tells me that it “hosts 27 airlines and handles 10 million passengers per year.” Huge. It’s easy enough to crash at the airport as long as you look like a traveller. On the night of the 3rd, I had all of my NYC luggage, so to anyone glancing around, I probably had a layover. There I was at 2 or 3 in the morning with a backpack, satchel, and rolling luggage looking at the huge electronic display of all the flights. So many places to go, so many people out there. I thought of myself in some hopefully not too distant future looking at that display for my own flight. Where would I go? Where will I go? Things like that played through my head as I continued on to the escalator that would take me to the carpeted lobby with large windows that face the runway. Not much to see at that hour, though, only darkness and a glimmer of the moon just over there. I found the perfect stretch of carpet right next to a window and propped up my backpack as a pillow. Pulled my pea coat over me and shut my eyes.
It was like that a few nights per week. Sometimes people would still be awake and there was chitchat. You meet all kinds of folk, of course. One night in particular I played cards with some Australians boys heading to the east coast, roughly my age and boisterous. One guy, James, kept saying “When we get to New York, man, when we get to New York..” He never really elaborated but we all understood. I told them that I had recently made my first trip there and we swapped stories about our respective countries with lots of guffaws. Nights like those weren’t so bad. Usually, though, I would get lucky and end up crashing at a friend’s or the couch of the couple for which I babysit. Sometimes I’d fuck my way into a warm bed. When I couldn’t, Denny’s was always welcoming. Open even in the event of an apocalypse, I’m sure, and about as ubiquitous as a cough. A lot of late night reading over a $2 cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Free refills, of course.
But the thing of it is that the lack of sleep didn’t bug me that much. Even feeling displaced didn’t really get to me at first. What struck me was how cold I was. At 2am when you’re walking a mile to the nearest Denny’s and your phone is dead, it bites into you. The cold sinks its teeth into your bones and no number of layers or breathing on your hands can shake it loose. Half of it was psychological. It wasn’t a temporary inconvenience to muscle through. Thoughts of my warm cozy bed to which I was heading weren’t there to get me through it. The cold became a part of my life. It seeped from my dark nights and into my warm days. The slightest chill at work would nip right into my marrow, almost playfully. “Don’t forget me,” it seemed to say. I found myself reflexively rubbing my hands together in charming LA sunlight.
I couldn’t stay with my mother, and I was too proud to really tell anyone other than two people. So, I did my best to skate around on good cheer and flirtation. I enjoyed my days. I went to work, I wrote sluggishly or not at all. I socialized. If anyone asked, I still lived at the same place but was looking to move.
The weeks went by in this rushed stagger and I found myself moving my few possessions into a small, barren room in a three bedroom apartment. I slept on the floor for almost a week until I could get a bed. My back hurt during the day and I slept fitfully. But I was so goddamn warm that I smiled from the floor every night.