Neither one of us realizes that the night has faded and left us in the early throws of dawn. Through the blinds of the small window above the bed the blue of another morning crawls in. The sprinklers on the grass below rain tiny droplets in thousands on the pavement and the squeaking brakes of a newspaper truck ring in our ears as it moves through the damp summer daybreak. Morning shadows float into the room and we look to each other, eyes asking to account for so many lost hours. My head finds rest in the cavity of her chest between comforting flesh. I breathe the heavy breaths left to me after a night of drinking.
The time between my eyes closing and opening feels like minutes but the clock tells of hours. It seems peculiar to me that she should clump around on the hardwood of this studio apartment in those sherpa lined boots, because if she is cold why does she sit by the stove only in her underwear like a pale and suffering Eskimo?
I refuse to leave the embrace this bed. I choose to hide in the warm cave of blankets and pillows only exposing my head for the opportunity to watch her young lines move on the opposite end of the room in the kitchenette. I’m beginning to think that this whole show of cups and saucers is entirely for my benefit. She pours her tea from a little pot that matches the cups and saucers.
“Do you have any cookies?”
I’m so hungry. She has a box of cheerios on the counter but I’m hoping it won’t come to that.
“I have cereal…or, I can make some toast.”
The bread is covered in oats, grains and all sorts of healthy seeds. It makes for a sorry breakfast. I eat both slices quickly and retire back into the blankets. I am now wrapped in those oats and seeds. They poke and scrape at my skin. It is time to get up. I dress and she leaves the room to shower. I picture her in my house and in my bed. She could be an entirely gentle force that lies down lightly on my pillows and beneath my sheets, her lotions scenting the linens in the days between her visits, her teas finding damp corners in my cupboard, her name finding place in the lexicon of my jealous friends.
While she showers I study myself in the mirror. My hair is thick and streaked by the sun. It remains uncut and unkempt. I consider the lines and the scars, my eyes, bloodshot and sunken in. The skin beneath my right eye is swollen and purple. I look like a Ralph Steadman sketch: silly, grotesque, but not intolerably ugly. Three days earlier while riding my bike home, drunk, from the bar, a car had struck me. I was thrown head first to the blacktop. I jumped up and checked to see that all of my bones were in tact and my bike was still in one piece. I was too drunk to seek medical attention or monetary compensation for my injuries. A small aged man popped out of the car and insisted on driving me to a hospital. He spoke mangled English and I replied to him in Spanish. I didn’t know how it happened, he couldn’t say how either. I wasn’t paying attention, he seemed to be in the ending days coherence. I felt okay and I was literally around the corner from home. It would be silly to visit an emergency room when I could just go home and sleep it off. So he apologized, I accepted, after a trembling handshake we both went our separate ways. It’s hard when the high point of your day happens in the first two waking hours. I have nowhere to go but down from here. As I’m walking out she jabs at my ribs with a tiny polished finger and smiles.
The summer days fold up into one another in an uncomfortable heat. Sometimes I begin to feel like a lizard or some other desert reptile seeking refuge under rocks and in crevices to keep tender skin from the sun. The finishing weeks of summer carry with them an evil and brutish heat that forces jeans to thighs and pastes hair to my forehead. I look at my watch. It is nine a.m. The immigrants who occupy this neighborhood are scurrying into churches for early mass. There are young men around my age tinkering under the hoods of old pick-up trucks in driveways. Yuppies and scenester kids line the sidewalk drinking coffee under umbrella-covered tables, asking waitresses to bring out water for their pets. Young mothers walk children in strollers.
Los Angeles is a city of vast energy and consuming life. It gives me hunger…but I start drinking.
These are easy days and wreck less hours. I question my crimes of excess out loud to Joe on our third round of drinks in a dingy corner of the Rustic inn. It is one o’ clock on a Monday and we have just finished eating pancakes at a restaurant down the street. We had walked in and taken seats at the counter among the young professionals and European holiday seekers. A group of guys our age sat nearby in crisp pastel button ups, khakis and ties. This is my third day in the same shirt and jeans-I hope that no one can smell me.
There is no light but the radiating glow of televisions that hang from the ceiling. They cast ugly yellow and blue strobes onto our faces and we speak to the waitress’ pale green face below at TV Set that is rerunning classic beach volleyball games. “Two more rum and cokes and two drafts.” Joe does not fuck around.
A large guy wearing an Oakland Raiders jersey presses a dollar bill into the jukebox and dials up a John Lennon song. It’s one of those acrid hippy-fuck songs about hope and love and an interminable peace for the universe. Bitterness and a negative worldview come as a symptom of exhaustion and prolonged substance abuse. We both recognize our positions. We take the bill but the bar won’t take an Amex card so we reach into our pockets and leave handfuls of ten and twenty dollar bills. I would like to pretend that we are responsible citizens and say that we walk the two blocks back to Joe’s apartment but in truth we drive with the air conditioner set at full, in our faces and Jackson Brown’s “Running on Empty,” reassuring us that this promising void that we fill on a daily basis is a truthful and somewhat prosperous expression of life.
The following hours are lost to a haze of drinking. I take a shower but can’t find the soap so I use dishwashing liquid instead. Joe considers stealing an abandoned bike in front of the apartment but the tires are flat. He goes out for the mail and returns triumphantly with a Louis Vuitton catalog in hand. “I relish knowing that I’m the only one in my building that’s on their mailing list.”
I look down at what I thought was a can of bud light in my hand that turns out to be a bottle of pear cider. “What the fuck?”
Joe looks me over-“You okay there, captain?”
I wake up to the sound of the front door swinging open. All of my exposed skin is stuck to the leather cushions of the sofa and I pry my face from it to sit up.
Apart from the shinning Burberry watch and gold pinky ring my roommate looks like a dejected French situationist, he is unshaven and sweating profusely under a linen military shirt and dark ray bans. We duck into the closest super market to buy more beer. It doesn’t make sense to keep drinking but in our state it also wouldn’t make sense to stop so early in the day. I try to look as undrunk and normal as possible. Topher is a conspicuous presence that draws the eyes and ire of those around us. He had arrived minutes earlier from the train station. He wears his sunglasses in the store and continues to sweat in spite of the air conditioning. I can see into the minds of the elderly patrons and they wonder, “What is this sweating, drunken Frenchman doing in my clean, well stocked local store.”
In the checkout line I realize that I’m still wearing my sunglasses and that these same people might look upon me with similar distaste.
“Look at that chickitty.”
Toph was eying a girl in dark cut-offs and a baby doll t-shirt at the head of the line.
“She looks really under aged.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, in Spain the legal age is sixteen.”
“Why aren’t we living in Spain?” I ask this question sincerely and instantly the shame of it all washes over me.
Happiness is not for everyone. Some people are simply not equipped to deal with joy and fulfillment the way that others are. I have somehow, through upbringing, comfort, and the little privilege that my parents could afford us, been fortunate enough to recognize and accept happiness into my heart. It’s not unlike Jesus- only without the deception and cultish, evangelical feelings. A slight afternoon breeze has come in off the hills of Griffith Park above us. I breathe it in as we walk and think of the tiny joys that build happiness in one’s life like a wall of legos. I think of kissing and swimming and lying in the grass just staring up into a blue sky and it’s clouds. I think of riding a bike, and beaches, of mountains and the pine needles beneath your feet when you hike. These little things that don’t seem to mean anything but without them life would be meaningless.