Freeways by Brendan Bonner.
Why is it so difficult to connect with Los Angeles? Every time I call, Los Angeles is on the other line, busy or in a meeting. I’ve left so many messages and texts. I once sent a Western Union telegram to Los Angeles reading: Dear Los Angeles. Stop. Called, written, cried. Stop. Let’s talk, I’m open for anything. Stop. Will consider selling out and/or subjugating myself. Stop. Yours, if you’ll have me. Stop. Signed, Me. I never heard back.
Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve tried to make connections, get past that which is within me that says I am separate. This has translated into many relationships with women that began with all the promise of a newborn baby but too many times that I care to mention, ended with the disappointment and heartbreak of a 40 year old drug addicted son calling, once again, for 20 bucks. Sometimes I think I have had far too much sex for my own good. Its taken many years to figure out that sex has never been an adequate substitute for wanting to be held, seen. But amidst this longing, this attachment, this feverish grabbing for attention, I have noticed that my appreciation for the minutiae has grown exponentially. The tiniest things seem to hold more weight; a casual door held open, the smallest of smirks. Thank yous become roses blossoming in garbage heaps. Nothing goes unacknowledged because in Los Angeles even the smallest of gestures, the tiniest of contributions to me seem like the grandest of parades, because in Los Angeles if its not big enough to be filmed it doesn’t exist, because if I don’t honor it all, I seem not to exist.
There have definitely been dark times. I have experienced moments where the fear of sliding off the side of the planet without leaving behind so much as a fingerprint has paralyzed me. I have had my nose crushed against the possibility of dying alone, my arms pinned behind my back by the thought of watching my loved ones die. The worst was after being broken up in an email. We met on a photo shoot and there was something I was so sure about with her. As soon as we met, I knew that I was done looking for that special partner. The one I wouldn’t mind getting old with, the one I could picture nursing through sickness, the one whom with I would withstand the ugliness and the shit. I had brought her with me to New York for Christmas to meet my family. Needing to be at work the day after Christmas, I dropped her off at the Newark Airport on Christmas morning. She was upset, again, and her parting words were, “I don’t know that I can do this.” I left her at curb side check-in with her luggage, a kiss on the cheek and a promise to call her the moment I touched down in Los Angeles. By the time I reached my sisters house on Long Island, I had received an email, filled with who-do-you-think-you-ares and how-dare-yous and her claiming me as the quintessential king douschebag of boyfriends. A Christmas morning, egg nog, mistletoe and an electronic “fuck you” make for a black Christmas, no matter how much snow on the ground. Of the nine months we were together, just long enough to birth something, she tried to abort the relationship five times. I was the lamaze to her pennyroyal. Three times I talked her down from jumping, once I flat out refused and the last I acquiesced. You don’t have to break up with me six times for me to get the message, I thought. I let her go, gave her up to the universe, trusting the adage, “ If you love some one…” I’m guessing she got lost on her way back.
Much of my experience in Los Angeles has been learning to navigate “no.” As an actor, you hear that more than any other word. There are no’s to work, no’s to relationships, no’s to my no’s; seemingly, there are no’s to my being, my existence. A few years back, I auditioned and made it to the final callbacks for the Blue Man Group. Trained in theater, I felt I had met my creative partner. The Blue Men were true theater, I thought. They made a difference with their quirky and odd style of theater, I thought. This is what I want to do with my life, I thought. At the callback, I rehearsed two of their routines, got bald and blue and gave it my all. I wanted this badly enough to lose any sense of the literal. Everything was cloaked in nebulous meaning as I began to see everything blue. Kind Of Blue seemed to play more than usual. A blue sky toyed with my heart strings. I went so far as to pull meaning from being hit in the chest with a blueberry that came out of a passing Big Blue Bus on Wilshire Boulevard. I felt the something hit me, reached down, and looked quizzically at the blueberry. I mean, A BLUEBERRY CAME FROM A BIG BLUE BUS!! I took this as a wink from God herself. A sort of head nod that said, I got you. When they called to tell me I wasn’t Blue Man material, I was devastated, crushed. No had broken my heart.
I grab onto whatever will give me weight, keep me from blowing away with the Santa Anas. Gin worked for a time. It filled out part of my heart, found sound in my voice but it quickly stopped. Hangovers got old and I could only have my heart invested in screaming at myself for so long. Drugs don’t work. Sluggishness is not weight. Dullness has life be a distant memory, something that I forgot and try like hell to remember. Untethered, I master nonexistence within existence, I achieve a shallowness to the weight. I check the couch cushions to see if I’ve left an impression. I look for my shadow like a lost child and expect to find it on the back of milk cartons. Yet, something else is there; a relic from a distant me, undiscovered and un-excavated. It is a single blade of grass burgeoning through the cement, fragile and weak, dumb enough to try to live amongst the bleakness. So, I circle the wagons. I retreat to where it is safe to watch, where I can truly see people through the ego and the smog. I go to the laugh lines of L.A, the crows feet of the city. I go to the freeways.
The 101 to the 110 to the 10 to the 405, back to the 101. Most of life in Los Angeles happens in cars and sometimes we spend more time en route than at our actual destinations. The time spent enclosed in our vehicles, our little fish bowls, our very own biospheres complete with A/C and soundtracks, with either extremely lax or very stringent smoking policies, is time well spent. From our mini mobile offices, we conduct our lives, applying make up, making up and making things up. I like to spend my spare time on the freeways. I have heard it said that it takes a half hour to get anywhere in Los Angeles, but those people that say that either are drunk or live in Seattle. Driving across town, which is the Los Angeles pastime, I think that I get to truly see Los Angeles, the actual one, not the one Los Angeles would like you to see, but the early morning-no make-up-before the first cup of coffee and cigarette Los Angeles. Los Angeles unplugged. I think of this as I sweat it out on the LA freeways, stuck behind the throngs of people, in their cars, alone, unfiltered and by themselves.
A magical thing takes place when we get in our cars, when we get on the freeways; we become invisible. We think we cannot be seen by anyone else as we stop and go, stop and go and I love this illusion because it allows me to watch those that think they cannot be seen. I cheer those that, using a pen or a brush as a microphone, belt out about Rolling in the Deep, pound out on the dash their best impression of Neil Peart on Limelight or shred the solo of Sweet Child o’ Mine over the steering wheel. I applaud when I see people exploring their God given right to take their index finger and insert it directly into their nostril. I once saw a man in the car next to me on Wilshire Blvd. crying and punching himself in the face. It was barely noon and this man was in a deep ceded fight with himself and in broad daylight his pyrrhic victory was willingly and wildly exposed. The free ways are full of self expression and this is Los Angeles at it’s finest, at it’s most intimate. The HOV lanes are empty because it is a city of one, a city of singularity. In our cars we become people on display for others to gape at in wondrous amazement. Our consciousness refuses to separate from the television as the fourth wall of our lives is always revered and never breached.
People are not good to each other. This was whispered to me many years ago and I can see it in the faces of those with whom I share this city. I can see it in the lines of my face as I get older. If I have ever gone untouched, unspoken to, then how many of us have laid in bed, dreaming of that one person who left. Perhaps if they were, our deaths would not be so sad. How many of us cannot hold even our own gaze? I have found sweetness in my sympathy for others pain. I search to see myself in the people of this city and no correlate is too far fetched, no relation is too absurd. I am that Latino man who has “Trust No One” tattooed across his chest. I am drunk on Santa Monica Boulevard being subdued by an inappropriate amount of police officers. I am homeless on the beach throwing punches at the waves.
I was but three weeks in Los Angeles, still getting acclimated, still finding my way, still breathing in this wonderfully noxious air as if it was my first time breathing. I was excited to be in this city, of all cities, having dreamed of it at 16, the first time I read Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. I had romanticized every aspect of living here so that most of my visualizations looked like scenes from an 80’s movie; the golden light streaming over the hills and through the big window that overlooked the blue of the Pacific. My visions knew no geographical bounds. However, I was soon to learn, as I still am learning, that most of what I thought Los Angeles to be was nowhere near to what Los Angeles is.
I sat watching TV; I hadn’t yet gotten cable in the new apartment, so I was subject to the local stations replete with their fascination of Golden Girls reruns and sensationalistic blood lust-like news casts. As I flipped through the seven stations for the eleventh time that hour, I began to hear a noise I wasn’t use to just yet. Guessing new sounds was a new game I played. Oooh!, I thought! A new sound to get accustomed to! It crackled and popped, like fire but no smell accompanied it. I turned off the TV, sat in the dark listening and looked to the front windows noticing how the light moved; far from a feature of the staid street lamps, this one danced and played off the walls of my small one bedroom. Both the sound and light increased in volume as I got to my feet and moved towards the window. I drew the blinds and discovered, down on the street below my apartment window, a Toyota Celica engulfed in flames. I instinctively jumped back from the window and hit the ground. I had seen this very thing in countless TV shows and movies. It was only a matter of moments before the fire reached the gas line and the car exploded, showering everything around it with shattered glass and metal. I’d be knocked down by the force of the blast and somewhere down the street, I imagined, was the culprit, walking in slow motion away from the scene, as the flames burned and grew in the background. I laid there on the floor, waiting for the big bang, thinking of how easy or difficult would it be to sweep broken glass off of carpet, as I had not yet gotten a vacuum. I laid there for a few moments more before I heard the sirens. I got to my feet, walked outside and the car was there burning, in no danger of exploding. A fittingly foreshadowing image; a promise of something great, exciting that never quite makes the grade. I kept staring at the fire, at its flames eating away at the interior, at the people gathering to ogle and in my head Neil Young sang how it was better to burn out than to fade away. I sat on my steps thinking this is much less exciting than in the movies. I sat there underwhelmed and watched it burn.
There are days when I want to burn it all down, to incite without, the revolution playing itself out within. I imagine the feel of the Molotov in my hand, the smell of burning gasoline. I imagine the bottle leaving my hand, its arc and subsequent breaking of the store front glass and the whole frame of the picture being gorged with flames. I imagine gathering round to loot the remains and pick the meat from the bones. Then I make eye contact with someone and that nightmare recedes and I am lost in the life of another. It is through them that my life is lived. It is found exactly at the point where my life ends and theirs begins. So, I sit in my car and observe the life that takes place on the freeways. I patiently wait for that perfect moment to break that fourth wall, to spoil and blemish all the proper rules of engagement and connect. I see this need out in Los Angeles, wanting to not just be filmed but truly seen. I will look into the eyes of Los Angeles, time will stop, history will end and we will fall in love. I know this in my bones.
In Los Angeles, amidst the no, I have found yes.
Brendan is a dear dear friend of mine an I encourage you to connect with him here. Please leave comments to this beautiful essay below so he can see them and respond accordingly. This is his second guest post on The Manifest-Station. Click here to read his first. Thanks, tribe, xo jen