I recently discovered I’m jealous of bilingual dogs. It’s not as strange as it sounds. I saw one at the beach the other day. He was owned by a couple, the woman spoke to the dog in Mandarin and the guy spoke to the dog in English. My first thought was – Great! The dog is bilingual. And I can barely order at Taco Bell. Awesome. Thanks for rubbing it in, Baxter! – I don’t usually compare myself to dogs. I don’t. I very rarely grow jealous of a pitbull; but the bilingual dog on the beach, he kinda pissed me off. It’s frustrating when a dog knows more languages than you do. And it’s not like the dog is gonna talk with anyone. It’s totally unfair.
I’ve worked on construction sites in California so I can manage some workplace Spanish. After living in two Ukranian neighborhoods, I can amuse shopkeepers with a few phrases and the one existential joke I know in Russian. It translates as “Well, I’m not dead.” I can also greet my Korean neighbors and properly tell them that “I’m leaving and you are staying,” using what I’ve learned from friends who speak Korean. From German friends, I’ve learned enough to be dangerous in a bar in Munich. I can’t converse, of course, but I can certainly cuss, insult some people for being slow drivers and ask them if I know where the shopping mall is. Try as I might, no language ever seems to fully stick.
Living around so many different immigrant populations, I’ve assembled a curious collection of little phrases and odd words. At first I did this subconsciously. Language is a way I like to play. Then slowly, I figured out why I was doing this. It’s a rather obvious and sadly pathetic reason. If you know more languages it greatly increases the number of people you can speak with. If you’ve never been here, the rumors are true. Los Angeles is a lonely town. But I imagine most big cities are. And don’t worry I won’t hurt myself reaching to pat myself on the back for subconsciously devising a strategy to combat my big city loneliness. However, I gotta say, at the conscious level, I think it’s a pretty smart response. Not all my ideas are so sharp. Okay, most my ideas aren’t.
Like, I have another strategy to combat big city loneliness. I overheard these two mothers discussing their children. One of them had a daughter who had an imaginary friend. The mother was terribly worried. Eavesdropping, I was equally delighted. What she described sounded pretty good to me. Of course, an imaginary friend would require a different level of commitment than learning a second language. But she made it sound like tons of fun. Like everyone would want what she was describing.
There’d be the obvious troubles, like I’d be worried about how my neighbors might respond. We all know people who really liked the movie Lars and the Real Girl but no one wants to live next to it. If the Real Girl is entirely imaginary, that would get weird fast, and test any neighbor’s patience and understanding. I’m still half-tempted to do it. Not to be defiant, I want to answer the question: When is it too late to have an imaginary friend?
I don’t know about you, I never had one when I was a kid. I had a little sister. She could’ve been boring as a pile of bricks. But I got lucky there. My sister’s really funny. And she’s always been an awesome partner-in-crime, better than Al Capone or Pablo Escobar. Imaginative, loyal and ruthless. She kinda spoiled me early. Now, I look for people who have backbone. Sadly, I don’t find them often in L.A.
I’m not talking about the locals, generally speaking, they’re well-adjusted. If you’re lucky enough to grow up in Los Angeles, you usually develop a healthy sense of who you are. I like the locals. The trouble is, most times they already have a very full social life and unless you marry in or work with one of them, it’s weird to try to make a best friend out of someone who already has a busy calendar.
This leaves all the others, the ones I speak with using borrowed phrases and have conversations that rely mostly on body language. Or I can make friends with one of those other non-local transplants, the people who move to Los Angeles, Young Hollywood, and their countless legions of eager and hopeful replacements. But after you see a few cycles of people come through, it makes it hard to connect. The new ones are innocent and naïve, which means you barely speak the same language. And they certainly lack the experience to understand anyone who’s been here for a few years. And the ones who’ve been here are busy making plans to leave, or have kids, or they get burned up and go kinda crazy from staring at the lights of the marquees waiting to see their name up there. All in all, it’s hard to make new friends in Los Angeles. Associates and people you talk to when you go out, sure, but friends who bring you soup when you’re sick, not so much.
In this town, if you don’t have the benefit of a work environment where you meet interesting people and occasionally make after-work plans, and if you don’t have neighbors who share your interests, you have to actually get up off your ass and spend time making new friends. When asked by people I meet who are new to town and who are so impressed with the few loyal and true friends I have, to them I always recommend discovering and embracing their hobbies, and spending time in classes or playing in any of the many league sports we have out here, the ones based around one of those children’s schoolyard games- you know, like kickball or dodge-ball. At first they think I’m kidding.
I tend to do solitary activities, so, an imaginary friend fits perfectly into my lifestyle. Take them surfing, go for a long-ass bike ride, you could maybe see a midweek movie, or when I get stuck writing I could talk out ideas with them, later on you could plan dinner together, you’d still have to do all the cooking and cleaning up, but it would probably feel better.
I still haven’t decided if my imaginary friend should be a guy or a gal. If it’s a dude, I wouldn’t have to be modest, I could still burp and fart at will, I could walk around naked if I want to, but then again the conversation wouldn’t be as dynamic since his point of view would probably be similar to mine and thus somewhat limited. Given a choice, I prefer conversations with women. So there’d be some upsides and some downsides to having a dude for an imaginary friend. Would you want an imaginary friend who’s the same gender as you? I don’t know.
Most importantly, I just want an imaginary friend who’s eager to have fun and get out of the house. I don’t want get some lazy homebody. If I wanted that, I’d get a cat. I stay indoors enough as it is. I wanna get out. And not to be stereotypical about it, but I think if my imaginary friend is a woman, I’d have fun trying to ensure she didn’t get bored with my choices for our Saturdays. The challenge would make a good reason for me to mix it up more. Not just go to the beach, a movie, a gallery show or a bar. My guy friends tend to enjoy a certain amount of routine. And sadly, so do I, at times. And this is why a real-life best friend can be so rad. Sometimes they get you to do shit you would never think of doing. I hope my imaginary friend will push me to try new things. If she’s a woman, seems more likely.
Once I decide if they should be a guy or a gal, I’ll have to find out what their name is. I guess, technically I could just make it up, but I’m hoping s/he arrives somewhat fully formed and filled with personality, and their name is one of the first things they tell me. Now, I know most of this must sound bat-shit bonkers. But to my ears, so does Catholicism.
Using the most basic unbiased language I can, this is how I would describe Catholicism:
A crowd of believers gathers together once a week. A guy in a special outfit leads their meeting. They recite some inspirational words and promises. They listen to some stories from their past, read aloud by members of the crowd, followed by a speech from the guy in the special outfit. They sing some songs and pray. And then they eat the body and drink the blood of their fallen leader. He’s a guy who died thousands of years ago, and for now until eternity they’re waiting for him to come back from the dead, for the second time. And by the way, their dead leader’s father also happens to be the grand architect of the universe.
See? Almost anything humans believe sounds silly. That’s why an imaginary friend doesn’t seem ridiculous to me, I was raised Catholic. Some people think it’s weird when I talk about getting an imaginary friend, and then they ask me if I’m going to sign-up to play kickball with them. They say things that tell me they’re just as lonely, but because I say something about it, and really more so that I come up with such a silly way to combat it, they seem to kinda hate that I’m admitting it’s there. forcing them to see it- they’d rather ignore their loneliness and go kick a red rubber ball and hopefully win the game that night.
Fumbling my way around in foreign languages, picking a name for my imaginary friend while I drive across town for a kickball tournament- I guess this is what it means to be an adult in Los Angeles. Whatever. There are worse troubles in the world. And I guess, truth be told, I’m not really ready to adopt an imaginary friend. Not yet. I just like the idea. So, I better go and register because I only have a few more days to sign up for that new dodgeball league. I may have sucked at baseball as a kid, but I’ve always been nimble enough to dodge a ball. And who knows? Maybe I’ll impress a teammate and we’ll go get some Taco Bell and I can teach them how to cuss in German.
For those of you who like the idea of an imaginary friend… no one’s done it better than Exidor from Mork & Mindy. He had a whole crowd of imaginary followers, and truth be told, he’s probably why I think the idea is so funny. Here he is explaining his Church of O.J. Simpson. Enjoy!