Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Rapid Eyes

My ex-girlfriend said I had a cold heart but a warm brain. The blood going to the wrong place. I always missed what was important, she said, with redness swelling in her cheeks in a similar misdirection of flow.

I imagine she intended this to hurt me. As a private investigator, my job requires that I notice significant details.

My latest case is a bit unusual. There’s this woman who won’t wake up, and her father is paying me to sit at her bedside. I told him, you don’t need a private investigator, you want a doctor, maybe even a priest, but he’d already consulted countless specialists, clergymen, etc., none of whom had any answers. Or maybe they had answers to spare, and yet somehow his daughter had not awoken. He preferred me, he said, because I didn’t pin my salary to promises about her wellbeing. I just got paid to watch.

She sleeps, and I watch.

When you’re tracking a missing person, one routine should be to wait around their known hangouts in the hopes that they show up. Only in this case, I’m looking at her body. Her last known sighting. A recently vacated building. But she might come back. 

I’m an insomniac, which is perfect for what’s required on a stakeout—a state of mild alertness. Everything passing through you. A man walking a dog, a trio of women, an empty street corner. All equal. Let it pass through you. Like an argument with your girlfriend. She’s shouting in your face, things like “autistic,” “emotionally garbled,” and the words float, forming in a cluster behind you.

I’m just taking in information. In this line of work, it’s very important not to be judgmental, but at the same time, it’s important not to get overwhelmed. Typically, as a PI, it helps me if I can work from behind a screen. A pair of binoculars. The windows of a car. A camera lens. Or the scrim that separates the awake from the asleep. 

Waiting for so long in a place that is so familiar to someone else but alien to you, you start to forget who you are. It seems strange that you could find someone as you were losing yourself. Maybe they need you to be the conduit to return to reality. As a PI, it is my job to be that conduit.

I could be upset. I could be bored. I could be sleeping. But you focus on the reality in front of you. Like when you’re dreaming—you accept everything. You wander through, so to speak, and only later do you think: how strange.

How strange, in the way that an elevator, carrying my ex-girlfriend upwards, could have been level, even for an instant, with an elevator on the opposite vertical course.

Like one set of eyelids lowering as another set ascends—in as deep a closure as a coma or as brief a relay as a blink.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

notes without a center

I try very hard not to write.

I used to think making art was supposed to make me feel better, but now I think it's to make others feel worse. To unbalance them, to bring them to my level.

"I am become weird, disturber of worlds"

Comedy, ideally, is a way to tell the truth without getting shot.

Add up enough pointless things and you get something that has a point.

Friday, November 7, 2014

a tautology in string

it is what it is
and it's not when it's not
when it knots into knots
it knows not what it is

it is what it is and it's not when it's not when it knots into knots it knows not what it is

it knows not what it is
when it knots into knots
and it's not when it's not
it is what it is

it strings what it strings
its knots
taut

knows knots

it's not
knowing
no
what
is

is
is
is
string
answering
stringing tonight
tie
out
knot
know
now
not when it's not when it knots when it's not when it knots
not when it's not when it knots when
it's not when it knots

it is
what it is and what it's not

a node around which knowledge orbits

even an emotion is an assortment of information

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Room Additions (LA 6/18/14 to 7/7/14)

(And today [the next day, Wednesday] was another day I couldn’t leave the house—recovering, socially and financially, from yesterday’s expense.)

After a long talk from my mother, I go onto Indeed to look for work. On literally the second page, “posted 2 hours ago,” a request for employees for Barnes & Noble at The Grove. Well, I like when serendipity works for me. I apply.

I walk to “The Grove.” Locating its approximate position with my phone, I have trouble actually figuring out how to get in. I see Nordstrom’s, and assume that’s part of it, but I press on, intent on broaching the proper entrance to this fortress. I end up walking almost the whole way around the outside, buffered by garages and apartments and places that are not The Grove. I enter an area that looks like a different shopping center. A little further there is a “Farmer’s Market.” There is a carousel. There is a little structure selling Taschen books. And then I see, past all this fake quaintness, The Grove:

Horrible citadels rise up, shrines to consumerism—
They look like they’ve been here forever, Mayan obelisks overseen by aliens, or not at all, like they were airlifted by secret government bases and deposited here mere seconds ago.

I don’t go into B&N that time, but I do return a week later, and spend a lovely morning browsing their three floors, eavesdropping upon employees’ complaints about managers and monotonous tasks, and getting the lay of the land.

At home, having received no noise complaints, I increase the volume on my music, with growing confidence
Unfortunately, a neighbor counteracts by playing their own music loudly (blaring their bad music). I should have seen this coming.

It appears that Catherine Waller might have been the friend to whom R referred when she said she had “a friend putting on a show for the Hollywood Fringe.” R is following Waller on Twitter, which seems to suggest that they know each other. I don’t know what to make of this.
(One other thing: At the end of her 45-minute show, when she stood, beamed, and bowed, for two moments I thought it was another character—and the audience’s applause blew my head back.)

Good cookie from “Milk Jar Cookies”—like biting into seven cookies, or sinking into a pillow made of angels

Wasted money at an art and architecture gallery—
If you want to trick an art gallery into bankrolling your constructs and assemblages, be sure to get your BAs and MFAs from prestigious universities, to study abroad, to serve on the board of any number of what-have-yous. Anyone who indulges your work is a sap, but at least you will have given them the justification to do so.
Whatever artists are foolish enough to apply for a space without a CV like yours will be turned away: How can they be any good if they can’t fill a placard of “accomplishments”?

Walk to Sunset Blvd
Mel’s Diner
            I give the word “jamming” to my waiter, who wore a white cap. He had the rapid-fire, plate-spinning approach to customer service I find familiar to myself.  “How are you?” “Good,” I say. “Taking a break?” (I guess so—a break that has lasted months, and may last untold months more.) “Yeah. How are you?” “Oh, you know. I’m here.” “Yeah. You’re jamming.” He’s already leaving—he laughs.
            (That’s what someone told me when I was volunteering serving meals at a church—bouncing back and forth between bowls of food and their recipients. Someone shouted, in appreciation, “Now you’re jamming!”)

Book Soup
This store is a flurry of staff recommendations—which is a good thing. For every set of shelves (you know, the width of your body, a set of shelves) there are probably five or six staff recommendations, handwritten in marker on pink or yellow paper.
My guess is (I enjoy losing track of time) I spend two hours there, working methodically across and around the rooms.
I buy a collection of writings by Clarice Lispector, along with a biography on Lispector. I have been meaning/hoping to find one of her books for a while. I think hers is the kind of confused, fragmented, mystical, inward-searching spirit I find echoed in myself.

A billboard of January Jones, “For Your Consideration,” in her Mad Men dress: “She Loves Pearls, But Prefers Gold.” Perhaps intentionally, the sign has been placed above a shop proffering the exchange of gold.

Guy sitting on the sidewalk jangling a cup asking for change. I have to walk by him.
I look at him.
“Come On.”
I am passing him.
COME ONNNNNN!”

For my Senior Project, a friend and I, inspired by an event that facilitated interactions with the homeless, hung out at a halfway house for the previously/potentially homeless.
We interviewed and/or filmed residents, employees, and policy-makers within the organization.
The man in charge of the organization told us, “Most panhandlers are not homeless. For the most part, homeless people want to be left alone. They are wary of human contact. They are not the aggressive types you find hounding you for money. If you want to help reverse the plight of homelessness, make a donation to a nonprofit organization.”

I take all things with a grain of salt—of course he, the leader of a non-profit purveyor of services, would advocate you give money to such services. But it makes sense. The people who are worst off are those who cannot even communicate. Of course those who have been burned by own society, scalded by their own families and scorched by their own lobes, back to front and back again, will shrink at your approach, will babble to themselves as protection against any unwanted interaction, will rest on a bench with a blanket over their heads as a statement Do not disturb, I am already and ever-unavoidably disturbed.

And I have not forgotten this. Although I find within the coming weeks that I make sure to leave the house with some change in my pockets so that I may plant them in the outstretched hands of vagabonds.

I also wonder—where do the people with cardboard signs get the markers to write their signs? I suppose it’s an investment.
I think of Peachum in “Threepenny Opera.”
Of course panhandlers always have a story—you can’t go up to someone and say, Give me money. Unless you’re mugging them. In a way, panhandlers do mug you, but they use guilt and narrative instead of the threat of firepower.

I can’t remember what I was coming from, but I think it was another late-night thing with Yoni that gave me the courage to do the follow:

This was written on the barrier to an embarrassing item I was attempting to buy from Rite Aid: “Lift Here. Alarm Will Sound.” That sounded like a contradiction: a request and a warning enjambed.
I lifted—but not “Here.” Electronic buzz of caution to criminals. I closed the barrier. I lifted—this time, “Here.” The buzz resumed, its tune increasing in insistence. I closed the plastic barrier. The next time, when I opened the barrier, grabbed my item, and set back the plastic, the alarm broke into song and did not stop—as if an awoken watchdog launching into compensatory duty.
I stood there, looking at the latch. I felt relieved—it could not get any more embarrassing than this, and so, in a way, I was saved.
An employee came into view from down the aisle. He waved at me—I held up a hand halfway in placation, in surrender—he waved me on, down to the cash registers.
I said, “I didn’t understand the warning—” He said, “Yeah, I don’t know why it does that—” He (a Latino) and the Asian elderly lady at the cash register appeared to be the only employees left, and the only other people in the store.
I guess Rite Aid was about to close. It was 10:00. Perfect timing to be embarrassed.

In the hallway as I leave my apartment, “Refresca y Fria,” fresh and cold: Box for an electric fan

Attractive girl walking down the street, talking to her friend. Her tugged-down shirt exposes her shoulder. She carries two cartons of water, one in each hand.
Here was the pick-up line:
“Excuse me, I think your shirt is slipping. It must be your jugs—your jugs of water. If you’d like some help, I can hold them for you.”
But of course I say none of this.

Big guy sits in a shaded bulldozer as his friend shovels into it the pieces of the street.

The Book Soup employee who rang me up yesterday I see crossing the street today. I appreciate the coincidence.
It’s a red herring, I think. But I will gladly eat red herring! I eat red herring for breakfast. I will eat red herring and like it.

Free KCRW concert in Pasadena
I wander around looking for the music. Is this some kind of labyrinth I am not yet permitted to solve? I hear sounds being piped out of loudspeakers, but I can’t find a band. Signs fling arrows in opposing directions. Yes, I want to hear “Live Music,” but I also want to see it. I am also trying to coordinate my location with Edan and T, a friend of Edan and Yoni’s from high school. Eventually, we find the venue, a square (I had just not gone far enough into the corridors of the courtyard).

Many people seem to take the concert as an excuse, a prerequisite, to gather and talk. I feel bad for the band. We meet up with Yoni and A, a girl from Tinder. Yoni wants to see 22 Jump Street, but it has sold out and we don’t have reservations. Edan gets money from all of us to go plug his meter. Yoni and A split from us to have some food, and we reconvene in an hour or so.

We go to Intelligentsia. Instead of an espresso shot, I accidentally order a latte. It’s 10:15 at night (that’s why I’m typing this up at 1:43 in the morning).

Edan and Yoni regale us of tales of their Israeli fathers in the army—crashing jeeps, oversleeping from being drugged, getting caught trying to hitchhike off base—it sounds like the Israeli army version of M*A*S*H*. Edan’s sister has followed in the family footsteps: dodging work, refusing to work, impersonating an officer. And she, an American citizen, had volunteered!

Conversational partners’ subtext: “You didn’t tell me I was crazy. Thank you. Let’s do this again sometime.” (“You listened and responded. I appreciate that. I am not used to this kind of exchange.”)

“A” gives everyone a handshake that redefines the term “firm” (more like the requested squeeze in preparation of a blood donation)—each finger works together, all equal to the task—and we part.

Walking home at 1:00 in the morning: It’s actually quite peaceful

Fiesta Auto Insurance

I watch a movie on my phone, which gobbles up my Cellular Data because I haven’t thought to direct it through my Wifi

The next morning, it’s hot—technically not as hot as it is in Cleveland right now, but it is an alien heat.

The parking lot outside of Staples is where bicycles go to die: Wheel-less, abandoned. A sign says they have caught someone “yesterday” trying to steal or cannibalize bicycles, and that bike owners may notify the LAPD, but this stays up for weeks, and none of the bikes get claimed or moved. If anything, more join them.

I keep my wits about me (or my half-wits). I seem to inspire worry in others.

I see this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi11LVYL8g4) on the Annapurna Twitter feed. This isn’t far from where I park my car. I wonder when it was filmed—was I driving somewhere beneath the drone?

Drinking out of Mason jars, blotting in my atelier

Auden on trauma: the child needs a trauma (will wait for one) in order to create—in order to fill the loss the trauma made

Reflection of traffic light onto sign of phone—makes it look like the phone is turning on

I know that face; I’ve made it myself. It means you’re not sure if you’ll ever see the person again. And you still have more to tell them. And maybe there won’t be time.

Poetry collection “Eunoia”: Each chapter winches around one vowel
Synesthesia:
A is black, contains all, saturated. A is start. Charged. Absorbs.
O moon, forlorn. Outward. Concentric, opening. Devouring. White.
I isolated, individual, limiting, nihilism. Shrinking, vanishing.
U undulates. Spurt. Loose. A universe of uno (uni-verse) in flow.

Or A is red—first “color” after white and black

I and O are opposed. Black and white. Inward versus Outward.
L-M-B sounds vs. T-K-P sounds, o vs. i. OppOsItes.

“Is” and “To be” are empty. No associations. Breaks, blips.

I read the free “LA Weekly” and walk back to where I found it, return it so that someone else can read it (there are only so many copies to go around, and they disappear quickly). Is this like what I did with the newspaper outside my steps?—penance for this? I guess I just don’t want clutter—I don’t want papers to go to waste.

Intention to drive to Skylight Books. Trying to wait out the traffic—How can I busy myself? Oh, look, there’s another bookstore. Done.
Aladdin Used Books—similar lack of rhyme and reason to The Last Bookstore, except 75% of the books are in Korean. And it all looks like it’s in order because the clean, white shelves are tidy, but there’s not, particularly.

The ad for How to Train Your Dragon 2 that unfurled down the side of a skyscraper has come down.
They are putting up a new billboard now: an image of a triumphant young woman in a coat, fist-pumping. Now they are working on her crotch.

Skylight Books
Only one employee. A customer who talked and talked. Though dense with esoteric stuff, the store is smaller than I thought. It does not match the picture I saw online.

A week later, when I return for the book I ordered, I am told to “go next door” to claim it. Literal next door is an empty front with a locked door. But next to that is “Skylight Books” proper, a place three times the size of where I had been, spruced by potted plants, and matching the image I had seen associated with the store.

Turns out the shop I had first perused was the “Arts Annex,” i.e. the space they bought up because they had too many art books to fit in their first store.

I kick a broccoli stalk on the sidewalk

Shaggy dog story: “Museum of Taller Ants” (versus shorter ants)

Taschen Used Books Sale: “A History of Photography” for ten bucks

Most mornings around 6:00 I am briefly awoken by the sounds of, I assume, somebody homeless going through the cans of trash behind the apartment.
I imagine that, in the evenings, people hear the same sounds—furtive clattering, restless movement, shamefully muted noise—emanating from my apartment window.
(Later weeks, I stop hearing these noises. I wonder if the guy has moved on. Same with the woman I used to see with the blanket over her head on a bus stop bench: I hope that she has just found a new spot, and that she isn’t dead).

I go to the IHOP up the street. The combination of the horrible Top 40 Sirius station, my alone-ness, and a miscommunication about the menu with the waitress (I asked not “What is the difference in price—” but rather “Is there a difference in price between the regular pancakes and the pancakes with fruit on them?”) which branded me an idiot, puts an expression on my faced that forced my waitress (along with some last-ditch, instinctual effort to save her tip) to say, “Are you OK?”—not in the normal lorem ipsum of her service profession but as the intervention of a friend—except she was still a stranger, and I gave her the correct answer for both strangers and friends: “Yes.”

6:29 on a Friday night and I’m sitting here reading, the dishwasher to my left, My Bloody Valentine to my right, listening.

Saturday night I get to see Lee Fields and the Expressions live! At the Troubadour.

Their opener is a disco throwback/modern production outfit, an international band (a Hispanic on guitar, an Asian on bass, and some swarthy Shia LaBouf/Balthazar Getty hybrid on drums—maybe Armenian?) providing grooves for a zesty young black woman.

She’s got spunk to spare. She sounds like Diana Ross. Her pop star dance moves do that Californian blend of gymnastics/cheerleading/hot yoga. In between songs, her voice gives one a slight association with helium.

When she starts to introduce the last song, she is called aside by the bassist, who reminds her that there are actually two songs left to play. Leave it to the Asian to know how to count.

Lee Fields: He is a powerhouse. He is so happy to be here.

His band functions as one unit. Seven players. Them white, him black. At 7:1, this ratio, unfortunately, seems to match the audience.

White guys in front of me make brief fun of his gruff, raspy voice which is revealed between songs. Well. If your throat was the New York Metro and you were conducting subway trains of screaming love through its tunnels, your voice might get a little hoarse, too.

During the last three songs, a woman with blonde curly hair dances in the space directly in front of me, never mind the fact that for the preceding majority of the concert the space to the immediate left of her boyfriend served as sufficient.

Mid-shlep on the walk back home, I buy a Gatorade at a convenience store. The proprietor makes me wonder: You come to America and you own/operate a 7-11. You have to serve dumb Americans. Is this any better than your old life? Were you fleeing oppression? Are you here to provide a better life for your children? In any case, all I’m thinking is that it must be disappointing.
Your life might not be that different here: bills, traffic, commercialism.
The grass is always greener? Los Angeles is a desert.

Sign on a utility pole advertising “Room Additions.” At first I read this as “Room Auditions” and wonder what this could mean. What kinds of rooms are best suited for particular purposes? I imagine a room’s acoustics and ambience tested for a band’s rehearsals. Who knows, you might find the best spot for your cupcake factory is on the third floor of an apartment building.

While I am waiting for Yoni to finish using the bathroom at a Five Guys, a piece of paper blows past my feet on the sidewalk. I pick it up. I read it. I can’t quite tell what it is. Typewritten and hole-punched in a manner that suggests a course that has never updated its syllabus, the doubled-sided page appears to be the history of some sort of cult.

A few keywords and key players stick out, like “Urantia” and “Vern Grimsley,” but overall I have the impression of history trying to paint back over itself, whitewashing events that were too odd and mysterious for it to comprehend in the first place.

I search the page for clues about its author’s intention, something conclusive like “This guy was crazy” or “And then they all died.” Although this is a random, disconnected passage, the author’s cryptic approach to the material gives me the feeling that the rest of the piece would prove just as oblique.

I show the paper to Yoni when he emerges, and he reads it with equal curiosity. What’s it trying to say? Who are these people? Google doesn’t give too much of an answer: the picture produced by the first page of results is fragmentary—from the perspective of whoever these Urantia followers would be, and not anybody objectively sane. At least I can finally pinpoint the time period: sometime in the seventies or early eighties. We decide to leave the paper for someone else to find. We joke that we are now true believers of Vern Grimsley.

We have eaten lunch outside a small place called El Diner; Yoni declares the shrimp quesadillas to be the best Mexican food he's ever had. We wander—for some reason Yoni has to have more food, and he spends a while debating what to eat at an Einstein’s Bagels (a honey-glazed lox bagel). I eat a brownie.

Back at the apartment, Yoni asked me why I had books face-down in a stack on my table. I didn’t know why. But I thought about it later and I realized:
I want a visual representation of what my brain is interested in at the moment. If I’m interested in movies, the books about movies will be at the top. If I’m interested in spirituality and typewriter art, that’s the book that’s going to be at the top. If I’m not, it’ll be at the bottom. The stack gets shuffled and of course the colors of the spines move around and it makes a nice kaleidoscoping pattern, and this is more interesting than having a shelf of books. As to why they’re face-down, it’s because in my mind the books are sturdier, they have more weight, if they are not face-up. The stack seems sturdier if the spine is on the right and the cover is down—to counter the fact that the books will be read in the opposite way. So when I’m not reading them, I let them reconstitute themselves by placing them at a reverse.

I show Yoni a poem I intend to read at an open mic. While walking up Fairfax, I had passed a small, unassuming front, and its sign said “Da Poetry Lounge.” It claimed, somewhat improbably, to host the second-largest open mic in the nation every Tuesday night at 9. Turns out this was true, as I showed up with my poem in my back pocket at 8:45 and saw a line stretching around the block. And they made all of us stragglers sit on the stage. There must have been close to 100 people there, half of whom seemed to be on stage sitting Indian-style squashed up against each other. But more on that later. I showed Yoni the poem. He said it reminded him of S. I later had to revise the poem, because I read on the Da Poetry Lounge Open Mic FAQ that all poems had to be three minutes or less, and mine was five minutes. So I scraped two minutes off of it, which actually made it stronger. Most of the fat came from the front—it took me a bit to rev up to full speed, and it turned out that I could just start off at this point of firing on all cylinders. Here is the final, edited version of the poem. I wasn’t sure what to call it, but one possible title was “Abused by the Muse”:

The muse likes to come in through the backdoor, breaking and entering
Playful and annihilating
I can never acknowledge her presence
A watched pot never explodes

She’s a Gorgon to turn me petrified.
I have never seen her, only glimpsed at her reflection in the cracks in a mirror hidden in shadows through the corner of my eyes, upside-down and standing on my head
This is the only proper way I may address her

She is too big for me
She needs me

I am tortured for information—
What’s it like to be flesh and blood? And she squeezes me to a pulp, testing my levels

The muse needs my limbs for her twitching strings
The back of my skull for her wrecking ball
My nervous system for her toboggan
My blood for her to course through, to overheat, to steam to a boil

She will switch me
The way a chair is placed first against one wall and then the perpendicular
A feng shui of the synapses

She is a truck and I am her roadkill
I am in the passenger seat of her kamikaze biplane
I am the notebook she throws into the garden to decay through winter and be recovered in spring
Maybe she’s as angry and confused as I am

I set myself as bait
I wander around a field, calling out “Hello?” like a schmuck, and the muse comes and slaps me across the back of the head, claps, boxes my ears, and vanishes
I pad my cell so she may box me around the loony bin          
I am nothing without her
I have to beg, don’t find me, don’t hurl me into the briar patch, for her to direct her wanton engine at me

She is called by associations
She is abated by the intersection of two unalike things—
So I venture to faraway places where she could never find me, where she will always find me—because the force of her connecting, slamming, speeding like a bullet train, completing the circuit with me within me in this faraway place will invoke a greater collision
For I have allowed her passage to a place she’s never been
And she eagerly devours nerve endings to pump her form into new crevices—like squeezing a packet of Gogurt
Engorging my brain organ

And yes, I craft it afterwards
Like a custodian after the orgy
Like the first wistful purging of the bowels in the metabolic cycle that follows the banquet
I am a lightning rod with burnt wires
I will recover, I will gasp for breath
I will feel elated and ashamed
And I will defenestrate myself again and again in the hope that she will snatch me before I hit the ground

Or at the very least that as I lie there, broken, at the bottom, in the garden, that she will seep into and replace me and make me into something less-is-more than what we were.

…so anyway, I wrote it out on an index card and thought I might read it. I also planned on getting to Da Poetry Lounge ridiculously early to sign up, but then the time got away from me, and I didn’t want to look ridiculous waiting around, and as it turned out the poem wouldn’t really have fit—

—the poets spoke in the tried-and-true cadence of performed poetry, and the pieces seemed to fall into a few categories: political rants, lost love or new love, the struggles of the poet’s minority, letters to a mentor who had died, etc. And audience members just loved snapping their fingers, which I had previously learned to be the way you show approval at a poetry slam, but I can’t snap my fingers, and I wouldn’t be doing it all the time even if I could. The people who got up to speak who said it was their first time and seemed very nervous (their papers shaking in their hands) all had this look of exhilaration after they finished to applause. It was all lovey-dovey. I mean, most of the poets were great. I can’t do what they do. The poets in the second half were the real newbies—they copied the exact same cadence, but they weren’t nearly as good, and they performed to a drastically reduced crowd. I don’t need to go up in front of a crowd to exorcise my demons. They’re not the kind that can be killed with claps.

The MC had his kid up on stage, too, which was the best part (the MC at The Last Bookstore open mic had her niece up on stage, so maybe that’s a thing now). They had a dance battle, which his son won. In between poems, the MC joked with the DJ behind him on stage, who had been told to “scratch” people off the stage if they went over the time limit. I suspect that the poets were given a grace period of thirty seconds or so. We were told that if anybody kept going after being scratched, music would cut in, like at the Oscars, and if the poet still kept going, the music would turn up and the lights would go out.

The best performer was a guy who slammed in Japanese, among other displays of prowess. I liked his line about making double entendres because he speaks “with two tongues.” That was the best line of the night for me and I showed my approval by going “Mmm” as some members of the audience were wont to do.

Rare was the poem that did not mention the poet’s childhood or parents. I found this funny, and telling. What wasn’t so amusing was having to sit Indian-style cramped on a stage in a fire-hazard venue for what seemed like eternity. My butt hurt.

Looks like The Oasis Theatre is where the Koreans have their church. (It has been empty and abandoned-looking every other time I passed it.) There is a parking structure set up to accommodate this weekly purpose.

Wheelchair guy crossing the road at night—I prepare myself to run across the street to flag down any cars barreling down upon him, because the light has turned green and the cars that have been waiting for him to pass are blocking the view a new car would need to see him—but he makes it.

Comedy show in Eagle Rock
Maria Bamford, social anxiety, which I love. Good to hear “showing up” is still the way to move forward.
Honesty works well; “being themselves”
How is it that some comedians can “open” to the audience, while others can’t seem to bring the audience in any closer than arm’s length? (Similarly, some comedians can be themselves, do their own thing, not hinge on being liked, and they still get liked—well, maybe those two qualities (being yourself and not contorting for approval) are actually what causes approval.)
Usual topics—same as everyone: Looking for love. Trying to “make it” in your career/dreams. Fighting against your perceived obstacles—
The best performers have some sort of struggle, some kind of weight attached to them: having body/weight issues, being gay or black or both, fearing communication, not being a conventional beauty but figuring out how to manifest that beauty (So it’s unfortunate that they have had to deal with the bad shit that comes with being “born that way,” but it might actually make them funnier, more interesting, more compelling, more worth listening to).

Don’t try to be too clever. Bring the pain. The one who gets the most vulnerable the fastest and eases the audience into it the most pleasantly wins!

Email: “___ ___ would like to be paid through PayPal.”
Oh really? What a polite way to say “Pay me my money.” I would like to be paid by somebody, too. Can we just send these invitations to random people? Will people pay you? This could be better than Kickstarter!

(Control-F the word “meaning” in a document: “Not found.” Ah.)

Mannequin in a pharmacy window in Los Feliz—rocking a neck brace, raising her arm up to show off a wrist brace, too

Saw a sign for the “Don Quixote CafĂ©” and tried to find it—should have known that the quest would prove fruitless

But stumbled upon an enclave of a community: cart says “Take a Book Leave a Book,” and farther up there is an offer “Free Guitar Lessons” with people sitting around it outside

Stack of eight fading Huggies boxes under a small palm tree

Church’s weekend is stacked: “Korean Worship; Hispanic Worship; English Worship; Filipino Worship”

Bus stop ad for Scarlett Johansson vehicle “Lucy” poses question: “The average human uses 10% of their brain. Imagine what she could do with 100%.” If we used 100% of our brain we would soon be back to 10—burnt out, and realizing that most mundane tasks require little mental effort.

Went to Edan’s house to see fireworks in the valley—a panoramic view of a few scattered skirmishes
Jacuzzi and conversation with Yoni, T and Edan
I slept on the sofa. I wake up, check my email, and see Edan has tagged me in a photo. “It must have been while I was asleep,” I think, steeling myself for the worst, because I definitely didn’t submit to any pictures while I was conscious. It’s not too bad, just Yoni and me with our eyes closed, listening to music, and T looking at the camera, probably ready to leave. But Yoni doesn’t like the picture because it makes our Fourth of July look lame.
After breakfast, around 11:00 I say, “Well, I think I’m going to get going soon.” But Edan quashes this idea. Considering I have to drive back and then walk 40 minutes to get home, there is no particular rush to instigate this process (which was why I had neglected to leave the night before—that, and traffic).

Edan wants to see the Neutra house—it’s all the way in Silver Lake, so Yoni complains, but it’s the best thing we can come up with—but then I check my phone (all of our phones are slowly dying of battery) and see it is closed. So we try to figure out what to do. Yoni predicts that if we go to Santa Monica we will wander around, get ice cream, talk, and not do anything of much value we couldn’t do closer to home (none of us are particularly close to one another, let alone anything of interest). Also, it is hot. We spend a lot of time looking for architecturally interesting places that we can tour with no notice on a Saturday on a holiday weekend while Edan plays GTA. We end up driving down the hill to eat Mexican and sit at Starbuck’s and then we call it quits. We make a plan to meet at LACMA tomorrow for the Bank of America cardholders’ Free Sunday. Yoni’s main squeeze N, whom I have met once before at his house, will be joining us.

I walk towards LACMA and call Yoni. I get my ticket and my sticker. In the next call, he says they are getting food from the trucks across the street. This food-ordering and eating process, as per Yoni, takes a long time. Edan takes a picture of N and me in front of a piece of the Berlin wall. Why? I assume Edan will also take/post pictures of Yoni and N, but no—and it hits me later that Yoni has probably instructed him not to do so, to preserve the image that he is unattached, so that any girls he meets on Tinder who looks him up on FB will not say, hey, what about your girlfriend? Sneaky.

We run into R again. I am used to this by now.

We visit the groovy Japanese art building that reminds me of the USS Enterprise crossed with a submerged seashell crossed with a chapel. Kimonos.

I am clowning around more than I usually do. Stop it, Isaac. Just stop it.

I land a few jokes that make N laugh. Dick jokes seem to work. I recall Yoni mentioning (in the Jacuzzi) that he and N shared the same sense of humor.

Wandering. Lookin’ at art stuff.

On our way out, down the street, they notice something that I had missed, despite having walked past it a few times: a streetlight speckled with LACMA stickers. The three of them pick a few colors, thinking that this will trick the guards into letting them in at a later date. We eat at El Diner. We walk up the street to get Milk Jar cookies, but it’s a Sunday evening, so they are closed.

I have a hack about my bed sheets. It’s a full-size bed, and my regular sheets won’t fit it. Oh but they do: if I lay the top sheet down on the bed and use the springy sheet to cover me. In fact, I end up doing this for the set of full-size sheets I had bought on clearance, too, because one of their edges is not long enough to reach the corner of the bed. I had previously taken a scissors to it, and thought that that was the hack, but now I just use the two sheets in the opposite way they were intended and sleep just fine.

For a while now, I had been looking forward to reading at The Last Bookstore and hearing what other people had to say.
I had written a piece about The Last Bookstore itself, which I had been germinating over for a bit. I had been inspired/stymied by the store’s design (type “The Last Bookstore” into YouTube and you can see some amateur videos of people running around the store, principally in the upper level known as The Labyrinth—my poem doesn’t require precise knowledge of the store’s design, but it’s certainly an added treat.) The piece shifted from being a scattering of musings into something more Borgesian, Ballardian. Something fictional, mythical, apocalyptic. As with my poem about the Muse, I found that I needed to write from the first person perspective rather than dispense objective statements and “advice;” I needed to dial up the violent, inflammatory, bodily and religious imagery, etc., in order to elicit attention/provoke a reaction; and I needed to jettison certain sequences I enjoyed because they didn’t end up fitting.

At 7:15, people were waiting in chairs. Sign-up was “at 7:45” but I knew from Da Poetry Lounge that first come first served means the most fanatically early claim the spoils.
When they announced that the sign-up sheet was in play, I got into line—at the end.

People played guitar and sang, did comedy, did poems, talked about activism.

The highlight/lowlight was a guy in a do-rag who looked like he was in his mid-forties even though he was probably in his (black don’t crack) early fifties.

He had brought a tape of a beat with him to rap over. The soundman started the tape. “Turn it up,” the guy said.
Uh oh, I thought.
The chorus of his rap went “Ain’t no stoppin’ this, ain’t no stoppin’ this—” which he would then repeat another three times. He had some verses about his accomplishments and day-to-day life (“Gettin’ paid, gettin’ laid—”), and then it was back to the chorus, where it was clear his heart really lay: “Ain’t no stoppin’ this, ain’t no stoppin’ this—”
I wonder what would happen if he actually didn’t stop, I thought.
And then he did didn’t stop.
It became like the hip-hop version of “This is the Song that Never Ends” popularized by Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop. The spirit of Andy Kaufman was surely impressed. The set of hipsters behind me pronounced him “obnoxious.” But the guy was just getting started.
“La la la la, la la la la,” he chanted. “La la la la, la la la la—”

Eventually he ended, and we all clapped. “Ain’t no stoppin’ him!” the MC said.

(Actually, the song is still going, because it’s been stuck in my head ever since.)

My slot ended up being third-from-last, slightly expedited by the departure of several would-be performers who had decided not to wait it out. In front of me was a comedian who talked about his unexpected, spontaneous, ultimately unconsummated excursion into a same-sex hook-up. Then it was my turn. “Let’s hear it again for the guy before me!” I said.

“This piece will take me about three minutes to read. It’s called—”

The Last Bookstore

Books are a virus—“language is a virus” that burrows into ventricles
Used books like spent needles
The books used the people

The covers had to be shut—
Like boarding up a wormhole
A glass house of nothing but shuttered windows

We quarantined centuries of questions into the Labyrinth

And in that arc of used, glued books outside the Labyrinth’s main maze, we sealed our information, we built a shrine to lost knowledge
Paper and pulp returned to the status of trees—shelter, shade, aesthetics, and decay
The bookstore aspired to be forest

The workers in the Labyrinth approached their duty like nature guides, noticing tracks, strange vegetation, the changing in the arrangement of rocks that made up the sides of mountains. They plugged holes, preventing landslides.

The Labyrinth revealed our books more closely as parts in a whole, shuffling, like sentences themselves, or letters, rearranged by an almighty author in furtive purpose only somewhat known to him—the books were neurons in his brain

A bit of order, yes, but the pieces scattered at will, and against him—thoughts were forgotten as books were bought—or forgotten as books were forgotten, where they were put or what their purpose was

We decomposed the pages into the mulch of our collective unconscious

Call me Theseus, the narrative the mind told itself, a bit of string unspooling from remembering to imagining

Within the wilderness, I’m a hunter-gatherer of words.

I just want there to be somewhere to move, something underneath, beyond, or through.

I’m moving past the book; my momentum is just past the book—like the karate master who punches not an opponent’s head but the space just beyond the opponent’s head.
A book is like a hurtle
Like the veil before my beloved
The scrim in front of our secrets

I am obsessed with the image of a decorative carrier that has forgotten its message, and become only decoration

The message is impenetrable—the only necessity is to acknowledge it, just as you would acknowledge a person

It is the same message, over and over again
            Stressing its importance
            Something about mortality. Something about the way things work.
            The messenger is the minotaur
            A flake off the feather of a fractal
            Plotted against a long enough scale, maybe opening a book and reading it is the same as looking at a book and not opening it.

The messenger has become the message through its repetition

It was never just words, but what emerged—an idea, a connection between people. And this could never be contained, or closed, or shut. We could not remove what we could not measure. We could not quantify our qualities.

If the books were never here, they could not be destroyed.

And where nature and books meet again, in this mingling of oracles
The next step is going back to writing on the beach with a stick, as words wash back into the sea with the tide

The message, “it is”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wilshire Will Be Reduce (LA 6/3/14 - 6/17/14)

For $90 a month I parked under a golfing range in Koreatown, forty minutes by foot from my apartment.

(I didn’t know this until after I had paid—I thought the green-themed “Open Bank” advertisements were for a bank—I walked to the top floor of the garage, and there was a green net above my head, and people were whacking golf balls.)

Walking back (I’m a flaneur):
Old lady in blue tracksuit and brown curls, her glasses almost to her lips, walks into “For Lease”
Crow in a dirt lot
“Citrus Avenue and Sycamore Square”
“1984: Private Defense Contractors”

[The journey across the country stripped layers from my soul, as trees disappeared into brush, into plains, into sand into rocks, and eternal mountains rose up reasserting our insignificance]

WILSHIRE
WILL BE
REDUCE

TO ONE
LANE

6/12/14
TO
6/16/14

EXPECT
DELAYS

(Traffic control sign aspires to haiku)

(Female employee in Beverly Hills wedding gown store after close—someone is always getting married—dozens a day—expensively)

Spending too much time on Quora

[On my first full day in LA, already a celebrity sighting: Saw ____ _____ (name redacted). Looked like he could be angry—or a reluctant leader—or wry. So, pretty much his characters, but with five children (their absence from his oeuvre actually removing the cause of his personality) and a sullen, omnipresent dad (which is more on the nose).]

I have a relationship with the neighbors in their adjoining bathroom where I can hear one of them singing John Legend in the shower, or both of them talking while the water runs. (Eventually I hear them less—and I wonder if they are aware of my presence.)
(I can hear them watching The X-Files. On Netflix, I assume.)

Four UCLA student poets (I was late, missed the first (or the fifth)) read their work at the Hammer.
A professor, at the conclusion of the reading, embarrassedly admits he didn’t realize how dissimilar they were from each other until hearing them tonight, which makes everyone laugh, because my God, they were nothing alike. Thankfully.
I value hearing their poetry aloud, spoken by the personalities that birthed them, unreduced to the typewritten.
Their best works, collectively, were moments of solitary contemplation—usually in the cold—doing something—walking up the hill to a house, ice fishing, entering a coffee shop in the wee small hours, and something about electrons and a lighthouse, while writing a paper(?).

During the last poet’s session, Yoni (he has made it to even fewer of the poets: only two of the five) nods at her, who has shouted about Lilith and mourned her lost spiritual advisor, and whispers to me, “I can smell your arousal.” Actually what he can smell is me trying not to be aroused. I am unwittingly matching her energy while willingly clamping myself from levitating.

Afterwards, Yoni goes to talk to her. He has marked her as the second-most attractive girl in the room, and, like a game of chess, or a training exercise, he will talk to her before encountering the first-most (who, in the meantime, leaves—with her boyfriend?). He compliments her performance and initiates non sequiturs:
“Slam poetry can be bad—”
“Oh, yeah, just awful—”
“It can be good—”
“”Oh! For sure, yes, it can—”
She is needlessly, manically nervous. I lurk, comically, peering out from behind Yoni’s left shoulder. I do not introduce myself, nor do I speak. Bound by the rules of engagement, when she tells Yoni it was nice to meet him, she cannot, turning to me, say the same, for we have not met.

Departing the Armand Hammer Museum: “I use ‘Arm and Hammer’!” I exclaim. Yoni muses if Mr. Hammer was Jewish.

Shabbat dinner at Yoni’s family’s.

Saturday morning:
R drives, H in the passenger, B in the back right, me in the left.
I give H Sharpies for her birthday, which will later come in handy at the improv show (at which we are to write our fake alliterative name on Hello My Name Is stickers).
I run my mouth. I get to know them again. We fall into our natural rhythms.
Camera store: R buys a replacement Holga for H as a gift. B talks about Netflix and studying to be a social worker. (“It surprised me, but not everybody is in it to help people.”)
At the Bradbury, I offer some historical-aesthetical context about Blade Runner.
[The Last Bookstore: Separate post to come]
Hours there, and books—so many that (my fault) we can’t visit the library (which is probably where they should have taken me first).
Dinner at a vegan place staffed by a sole young woman. Nobody knows what to order. The waitress/cook makes a recommendation; it’s what the current customer is eating. Three of us order it. A fig sandwich.

Comics shop for the improv show—so this is where all the nerds are in Los Angeles.
And we finish it off with ice cream at a place called, to my amusement, “Milk.” A new head-shaker in attempted elegant simplicity. Goofy.

The next day, Sunday, eager to use my Bank of America credit card to gain free admission, I walk the four blocks to LACMA.
A room of rescued photos from the artifice of thirties film sets—
I quickly find (it finds me) the entrance to the cubists, Dadaists, surrealists, modern fuckers, Abstract Expressionists. Inspired, I take notes from the curators’ texts on my iPhone.
I am gleeful. Glee-ed. Soon, at each painting, I pose the way the painting makes me feel: If there’s a subject, I assume their position. If it’s figure-less, I summon what I believe to be the energy of the painting and express it through my posture.
I am laughing. I think of the ways you experience a museum as one person instead of part of a pair, or one of a group. A Rothko painting makes me almost cry. I see the struggle for the spiritual. I see the pressure on both sides, above and below, with a hot fusion core in the center. … And it only hits me as I’m writing this just now that the last UCLA poet was probably talking about this very painting in her mini-poem about Rothko. I didn’t understand the poem—something about one of the colors being “daddy issues” confused me: The painter’s, or the poet’s? But perhaps understanding is overrated in a relationship: You only have to make the choice to be together. Maybe there is more to discover, more years that will bloom, if understanding eludes you from the outset. But again—she was crazy.

I see three sculptured assemblages and the text on the wall mentions four—the fourth, of course, referred to as the artist’s most incendiary. I ask a guard, and he gladly volunteers that the piece is in storage. Actually, I seem to remember seeing it at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He wishes me good day, and we part, charmed.

I make my way with leisure through the decades of striving starving artists.

Approaching the passage out of a large room—as if drawn?—I can see the threshold to another: Like I was dreaming—I recognized the configuration of several people at once—like a dream—like a memory of the previous day—like an out-of-body experience—
Framed by the wall to their right and the light to their left:
R’s back to me, N looking down in profile. Then H came into focus and I knew that it was real.
H sees me first, or maybe I meant to address her first (probably a combination of both); B facing the other way, turning around.
And I know how J feels when uninvited. But of course it is on account of N. I say, “Thanks for inviting me.” A Rorschach test, equally interpretable as joke or accusation.  R looks uncomfortable, caught. N asks, “Was this planned?” As if I had emerged from Door Number 2 on This is Your Life, which, of course, I had.
H might be happy to see me: another friendly face. I babble, my verbal fight-or-flight response—exhaust the enemy—I tell them I’ve been weirding out patrons by posing like paintings. N says, “Yeah, that’s weird.” And there’s really nothing to say, as I shuffle across the x-axis of the four of them, and within more mere moments of halting speech we have reconfigured, and I am looking at them poised to enter the room I have crossed, and they are looking back at me turned to them in mid-step towards the room they have already walked, and I am telling H I will catch up with them later. Let us simmer.

And we do meet up again, in an hour and a half, after much muttering to myself and recalcitrant looking at paintings, for lunch in the museum patio. A conversation passes, or something like it. I try to ask questions like I normally do. I try to talk about how the Rothko made me feel—I sound both inarticulate and pretentious. The man sitting at the table next to us leaves—disgusted, I imagine, with my half-stammered pedantry.

We look at art. We are told to take off our shoes (and replace them with white mesh) before entering a space by James Turrell, an arctic-psychedelic void. Its color throbs and its edges dissolve, easing you into disorientation. N and B leave after two minutes.

I walk slowly to the far wall. I look at the guard. I stare forward at the void. I have been smiling. I reach my arms behind me. I touch the wall. The guard says, “Don’t touch the wall!” I leave. Why does the void have rules—rules other than gravity? I have wanted to ask the guards, who have told me don’t touch, stand back, no pictures, “Can I touch you? Can I take a picture of you?” I guess it’s there in the name, guard, but you’d think the role of museum employee would be one of acceptance and permission, not prevention. “Enjoy the painting!” they should say, “I do!” If they don’t want anyone taking pictures, they should just blind us, amputate our hands, remove our memories. Why have patrons at all? Lock the art away. Someone might experience it; someone else might share the experience with yet others.

And of course a picture can’t compare. My surreptitious photo of a Calder mobile didn’t turn out—what’s more, the mobile wasn’t in motion, which is a contradiction. I remember with fondness my dad, walking through the Cleveland Museum of Art, blowing upwards, prompting Calder’s mobile into its natural state of grace.

N asks, “Why did you leave?” I don’t have a good answer, offering instead something about needing only a certain amount of time to suss out the qualities of the room. N and B wander off. I check my phone.

H and R leave after the full allotted twenty minutes. H, smiling, reports satisfaction with the void’s sensations of disconnection, and I think she might enjoy being high.

I guess we should see more art. Unfortunately, it’s all futbol and phalluses. They (N, B, R & H) ask me to take a picture of them—
Actually, before that, a woman asked me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend. She explained, as he protested, that she wanted it in the style of the picture behind them: two kids looking serious on a bench. I get on one knee and frame her iPhone like the photo, but unfortunately the man is blocking half the picture, which is too small anyway. The woman asks me to take it again. I zoom in this time, to better see the picture, but now their feet are cut off, but the woman accepts this, or maybe she can’t bring herself to ask me to take it a third time.
—so I take their (N, B, R & H’s) picture, and that’s all, we say goodbye, and I walk away.

Smiled at a hot nun after her habit had almost blown off

Later, I drive to the Walt Disney Concert Hall—lower level—the Redcat Theater. For a dance-on-film festival called “Dance Camera West.”
When deciding which event to attend, I chose the program that included the winners of a high school and college competition. In the same way that I went to the UCLA student poetry reading, I wanted to see what the youngins were up to, people around my age, enthusiasm, and level of progress in their artistic practice. Predictably, they weren’t very good, like most amateur videos. One was cool, with two guys flopping around a skate park. The images doubled and mirrored.

And then I was in for a whole feature-length movie—the event most of the audience wanted to see. Something Indian. (It seemed like at least 75% of the audience were Indian, many in saris and what-have-you, traditional dress.) A “documentary.” Oh well. Maybe I would learn something.

It started out a little awkwardly, a little lo-fi, the typical talking-head with clips thrown in. But, like a dance, spinning faster hypnotic circles, the story tightened as its scope widened:
Jason Samuels Smith, a black tap dancer in his early thirties, from the hood in New York, is asked to go to India. It’s not clear why. Gregory Hines has died, years before of course, but it’s one of the reasons JSS feels lost. He’s at a crossroads, thinking he might give up tap and go live in the woods. Somehow, he gets this gig in India, where he will meet Chitresh Das, a dancer of the Kathak discipline, who is in his sixties.

Das is small, excitable, something of a ham, but he yearns to bring the dying Kathak form to the masses—it can’t be what it once was, but he can keep it alive. Kathak is complicated—you wear bells on your ankles, and you can’t even don the bells until you have committed yourself to years of preparatory training. Das spins. He moves like lightning. JSS is impressed, almost immobilized. He gives the dances his own spin.

The film follows their tour of India and their friendship. They are connected by their mutual appreciation: They know a fellow master when they see one.
Their outward differences don’t matter. Switching off, they improvise to challenging Indian drum patterns, highly focused yet open at the same time, locked into each other, rhyming their moves, one-upping each other, until the energy that has been swirled up by their performance reaches a climax.

JSS is slow, hip-hop lackadaisical when waxing poetic—except when he’s dancing. And then it’s like his legs are—but I can’t even describe it. I don’t even want to. Same with Chitresh Das. I’m going to pull a reverse HP Lovecraft and say that their dances—after the movie they walked out in front of us and performed!—are too beautiful for me to describe. Suffice to say that I was moved.

And Das told us, Have fun. Acceptance, discipline, respect. The audience loved it.

On Monday I did not leave my apartment, but several Latinos entered it, one after another, to fix my window. It’s not my window—it’s not my apartment—it’s not my problem. But I didn’t say this, and the succession of Latinos fixed it regardless.

An email from Sears that my part had shipped—not mine, but someone with a similar email address: not Mell Isaac with a dot in the middle, but Melissa Acy with no dot. I forward her the message.

Tuesday, another dance event: Dancing and writing about dance. Cross-curricular, could be cool. At the Central Library. Paid too much for parking, didn’t realize one lot validated for the library.
Simone Forti would probably not be offended to be called an aging hippie, but she’s smart, and she understands that simplicity can be the hardest thing to do.
She improvised a piece for us: She walked, blew through a gas pipe, mused out loud, worked through her mental process in front of us. She used water as a metaphor, and built up her themes, and returned to them.

Then, two dancers, a woman and a man. Probably in their late twenties or early thirties (dancers are well-preserved, after all), she a white woman with short purple hair, he a tall black man. They pull off one of the implicit goals of dance: projection of the dancers’ personalities, even (especially) in the execution of precise, dictated moves. She seemed skeptical, defensive, yet confident. He seemed calm, confident, yet sensitive. They paired well, and were extremely good. They performed to a drummer. More on their performance later.

Afterwards, the choreographer talks—she mentions that her father died in the midst of her working on the dance. The moderator (herself a writer/dancer, but I’ve skipped her) asks, how did you know when the dancers should hold hands? The choreographer says it came out of improvisation and practice, and states that, even though they had to hold hands briefly, they could not look at each other: “It would have been too much.” Everyone agrees. It’s about how we are separate and apart, but somehow connected. Unfortunately, a lot of dance seems to be about the failure to communicate (at least the ones I’ve seen recently).

I compose an email to her the next day:

“Thank you for your choreography at yesterday’s LA Central Library event.
“Because of the themes in the previous dance, I couldn’t help but see water, the drummer funneling, phasing a stream with his cymbals, the dancers stroking, swimming with arcing arms and gasping lungs.
“Two people, two histories, two parallel universes, in the briefest of contact but ever isolated. Mirroring streams that touch but never converge.
“The dancers, complements in confidence and sensitivity, trawling a spectrum of skepticism and reception, abandon and collection.
“Swiftness and slowness, playfulness and mournfulness, given equal weight.
“Thank you again, and my condolences on the loss of your father.”

Well, it looked better in Microsoft Word than in Gmail. Too effusive/proto-poetic to find in your inbox. In any case, she thanked me for writing the note, appreciated hearing about how I saw the dance, and to have “met” an audience member, and wished me well.

Geek employee at a geek shop putting on a fake British accent—unless she was putting on a fake American accent with her co-worker.

On La Brea: Before me, a woman’s legs. Next to me, a chemical mixing plant—a different kind of factory.

Maybe it’ll be good when we all have Google Glass. That way we won’t all be standing around like jackasses holding up a rectangle when we take a picture.
And it’ll make our lack of privacy more obvious, a little less easy to ignore.

There is an opening night party for the Hollywood Fringe, a festival that gives frustrated writers, actors and directors an outlet for their plays.
I walk to the spot, a bar called The Dragonfly, where I hold the wall for an hour and a half. A froglike man tells me he is majoring in Chicano studies. He has glommed onto me after I answered a question (“Is this the right place for—?”). We are there early, before anyone else. I have a shot of tequila, my go-to drink to order at a bar, and I wonder in what combination the Chicano major, the tequila, and my own self-sabotage forces me to stand there motionless. The place fills up, a band plays, people take video and pictures. At one point, I get behind the wall, and seriously consider pushing myself up onto it and dancing; you know, doing something weird to attract attention. But there isn’t a good chance, and it’s clear that, in this case, given the choice between Option A, acting normal, and Option B, acting the fool, I will take Option C: I will just leave. And I do.

I growl in my head: I have nothing to say to people when I’m standing right next to them; how could I create art that speaks to their souls?
(I match people/modulate—unfortunately, I tend to resort to their anxieties and fears—or my own—)
(I feel like people expect me to do something amazing/dangerous at any given moment, and when I don’t, they’re doubly disappointed, I’m that much more uncool.)
(People can’t predict me. A) I’m alone in situations that seem strange. B) I’m running through all behavior in my head to find the best/most appropriate or funniest/most unusual connective.)

Can we call it karma? It must be because I didn’t respond to the woman who asked if I was making jam. I was walking home from Target carrying Mason jars. I could have just said, no, they’re for drinking out of, but I was almost out of earshot, and she could have been crazy. And I was walking home from Target carrying Mason jars.

But I was looking forward to a performance the next night, at 10:15pm, something called “The Creeps.” I had looked over the Hollywood Fringe website, writing down the names of plays that sounded intriguing, and it was really the only one I thought I had to see. Here is my review, which I wrote and posted, when prompted by automatic email, on the Fringe website:

“Distortion reveals—darkness liberates—hysteria serves as the foot soldier of truth. ‘The Creeps’ forces us to confront our broken counterparts.
“Talk, literally talk, to creatures that don’t exist, funneled through one woman metamorphosing into vastly different physical and psychological figures in the space of a blackout.
“Catherine Waller frees these creeps from the corner of your eyes and the edges of your limbic system. In this dark comedy, you laugh as your hair stands on end, trying to escape.
“Intentions turn ambiguous, reality shifts in a moment, and paradoxes dance—when the most hospitable is the most sinister, when the most pathetic is the most noble, when the most exploited is the most in need, when the most battered is the most cruel.
“Twisted by their own evil or their own need for salvation, each creep is both abuser and abused: Cast-offs, relegated/exiled to a basement of terrors where modern-day and fairy-tale detritus decay in the same heap.
“Anything can happen, because the creeps can see you. You can’t hide. You’re paralyzed in your chair.
“You think: I can’t become one of these creeps. I have to get out of here. I can’t be associated with them. And as they treat you as their own, you feel yourself distorting, disintegrating, becoming grotesque.
“Will you listen to the evil and fall for it? Will you embrace the good, even if it is damaged, infected, deadly? Can you save anyone? Will you dare? Can you save yourself?
“The creeps are isolated—they enjoy the company—but you might not be able to leave. They might keep you there forever. Indulge them, and let them mingle with your own enigmas, demons and malformations.
“You will leave relieved. At least you’re not doomed, controlled, locked in eternal pain and confusion like the creeps.
“Except we are. And that’s the comedy of ‘The Creeps.’”

Again, way too effusive for daytime hours, but hey, I felt compelled. What I didn’t include in the review, because I felt it’d be spoilers, was this description of Waller’s four characters:
“A Mephistophelian lizard MC; a mutilated laborer, complicit in his own loss; a stripper betrayed by her own biology, animated by the juice of her possessors (and imagined saviors); an amputated child tyrant, doubling her trouble.”

To go into even more detail, because, again, at this point it doesn’t matter: The third character was a pregnant stripper, hooked on meds by her employer. She was my favorite. A pregnant stripper? Come on, that’s just a cool character.

And I learn a new word: “bouffon.” A clown, who reveals to his hoity-toity crowd their emptiness—this message smuggled within his humor. Wikipedia says that in Paris at some point all of the ugly, diseased people were forced outside its walls, and they were invited back only on holidays, during which time they were forced to perform, and the performances of these bouffons, of course, held malice at their very core.

And: “The ideal performance for a bouffon is one in which the audience laughs, has a great time, goes home, realizes their life is meaningless, and commits suicide. [Pause for laughter.] Obviously this is an idealized version. [Pause for more laughter]”

LA is that mix, that amalgamation, that crossroads, that death, that passage, that point of hope and failure

Red shopping cart, white motorcycle, purple apartment

Latino teens looking at a shofar, passing it around, laughing. Its presumable owner warns them not to smell it.

Yoni invites me to an “avant-garde jazz show” with an old friend. I ask him if I know the friend. He says he doesn’t think so—M? I say oh yeah, we went to a jazz thing before, the three of us, and I farted in the car.
Yoni texts back: Oh yeah!!! LOL! I remember lol

It was probably the second-smelliest fart of my life. It was impossible to ignore. M thought it was Yoni (or at least, the rules of decorum prevented her from accusing anyone other than the individual she had met before that night). He evaded the question—“My farts don’t usually stink!”—but neither did he finger me as the culprit. And I, like a bastard, let him be a true friend and take the fall.

In my head, I flash-forward to the evening before me:
Yoni: “M, Isaac has a confession he’d like to make. Don’t you, Isaac?”
Isaac: “Yes. M, I farted in the car. It was me—not Yoni. And if we are all very, very lucky, we might just be able to repeat that experience tonight.”

Perhaps dreading this exchange, I am a half-an-hour late to the concert—even later, because, assuming this is a proper concert, I drive past the venue, a squat art gallery—but the concert itself has not started.
A young guitarist pedals his way across Arizona desert, African plain, Arcturan celestiality.
Next musician plays woodwinds to cassettes of his “favorite improvisers” first picking up their instrument after a day’s abstinence. Beautiful, eliciting the latent in what was there. Improv-exploration meets composition after-the-fact. Woodwinds phase; pages flutter to floor.
Steampunk saxophone—like a dinosaur carcass, cyborged with blue-streaming thermostat. Sax, pedals  and mic collude into a sound like a swarm of bagpipes, a million motorcycles exploding in mid-Evil Knievel-style-air, an astronaut at the speed of light, off his rocket—inevitably, exploding. He weaves like his sax will be sucked into a vertical slit of a singularity. He is “picturing fear,” and how you face your fear or deposit it in a backpack and carry it with you.
I love it. Does anybody else? The sound has bounced-slammed-busted around all walls, sending Yoni out for earplugs.
Lastly, older hippie man leaves his house with gongs for the first time. Mallets, winds. Earth and sky. Slow echo—gongs as the original feedback/resonator!, bringing the evening to a thematic close—hovered over by a flurry/tizzy of technics, blowing whispers of timelapsed spiderwebs through his reeds.

My erstwhile flatulence remains unclaimed (has the statute of limitations run out?), and I emit no noxious gases while in M’s presence. Yoni and I eat pizza on a bench. He invites me to his friend’s house tomorrow for a barbecue.

They are smart, funny people, some of whom I’ve met. I secure my place as one of them with a comment. On the subject of believing only half of what you read, J says he has come across the theory that we are sending 100 people a year to Mexico to be abducted by aliens so that the aliens will give us the Internet.
“We do need the Internet,” I say.

Other topics: A businessman sheikh heir who buys out a competing casino because the first one gave away his table. Someone’s neighbor is losing his motor functions—through typing, he tells his family that he understands the concepts, he just can’t get them out. And lots and lots of stories about people they know, or used to know, or are glad they no longer know.

Yoni talks about how he was a bully in elementary school. In fact, he turns to the bro next to him, an aspiring golfer, who has recently shown up, and whom he claims to have only met “a few times,” and he asks:
“Did I bully you?”
“You did.”
“I’m sorry, man—”

I stay at the barbecue for several hours, even after Yoni has left. I excuse myself sometime around 9pm.

La Brea:
Lenin head
The locksmith’s was locked.

The same shop over and over again—old clothes for hundreds of dollars, a few art books, a few more LPs, one employee. One had a barbershop; another had sand.

Cages and cash registers, Buddha heads and teak doors, mannequins—like the people starting their own bookstore by buying books from The Last Bookstore.
Antiques, ancient belief systems, eastern statues, eastern talismans, anything to root you

Hollywood prop rental shop:
Photograph: “Mormons serving their term in a Utah penitentiary for polygamous practices, 1890”
Under it, newspaper piece about Charlie Parker from his mother: She looked outside and thought it was snow—empty Benzedrine containers.
(Now, how is this something you would rent? Seems like something only to be abandoned or stolen. A curiosity.)
“Infant Nutrition Information” binder filled with Desert Storm trading cards

Bob Health Hope Center

Gallery Voila: “They’re bird skeletons for educational purposes from Belgium in the seventies, hand-dipped in silver” (I hadn’t asked).

Super Cuts haircut from a man named Salvador. At the end he removes a wet towel from a microwave to my left and scuttles it across my scalp.

Newspapers, editions of the LA Times, have been sitting on the steps to the apartment complex for days at a time. On Sunday night, I help myself to the current edition. I cut the cords, read the entertainment section, and return the paper to its original place. The next day, it is not there anymore. But in the following days, the newspapers still pile up, unbroached, unread.

I imagine an altercation with the subscriber:
“You can’t just take the paper!”
“No one was reading it.
“You didn’t pay for it!”
“Yeah, but you didn’t read it. Is it so odd that, if a paper is paid for, that someone should read it, even if it’s not the person who paid?”
“You’re a thief! You—” And so on.

Bus ride back to the Hammer for Bloomsday. Down Syndrome bodybuilder.

When I get to the Hammer, I see an extremely attractive, intelligent-looking woman, and I imagine she smiles as I friendlily barrage the museum volunteer with questions of, is this the line, what is this the line for, how much will it cost me when I get to the end of the line. As I am waiting in line, her boyfriend appears. “Goddammit,” I say to myself.

The theater is filled, so the rest of us are shunted to the adjoining room for a telecast. This produces occasional moments of humor as when a member of the (actual, in-the-flesh) audience hugs someone in front of the camera, or when the close-up camera operator focuses on entirely the wrong person and won’t budge, until his feed is cut and we get the wide angle again.

And then the reading of passages from Joyce’s Ulysses begins, his stream of consciousness spread out across two women and four men (and two opera singers and a pianist performing Irish songs “of the day”).
The performers orate in Irish accents, only two of which I surmise as genuine. They look like they’re having a lot of fun.

I hadn’t read it. I had no idea it was so much like Tarantino! References to and theories upon other art it likes. Breaking the rules. It’s also like Shakespeare. Incomprehensible in long passages, a penchant for puns, well-read. Digressions. Pronouncements. Comedy and tragedy. Inspiring you to write, but also dispiriting (you’ll never reach that level of wanton genius).

We are invited to stick around for more Irish singing and dancing. I see a redhead. I have the perfect pick-up line—“Yes?”—because the ending to Ulysses, performed just minutes before, wends itself around the repetition of that word, in a punctuation-less, sexy, world-encompassing affirmation. But I don’t strike when the iron is hot, and, preemptively, pre-emptily, I leave in lieu of the line.

I read that spontaneous people are attractive to us because, given the fact that they do or say whatever they think to do or say at the moment, they are not deceitful, and therefore are trustworthy, and we can have civilization. (Although if they are too spontaneous, we can’t trust them to show up or follow through. I think of my attempts at meeting with S, who tells me she can get me a job as a marketing writer. I ask her the name of the company—twice—but she doesn’t acknowledge having been asked. We make plans to meet, but she pushes them back, and pushes them again.
It’s a real cat-on-the-roof situation: “The cat’s on the roof—oh, the cat fell—oh, the cat’s in the hospital—oh, the cat died.” We don’t meet.)

Drove to Pasadena
Spent too much money in a bookstore

Extreme pizza shop employees—woman looked like she had been beaten, bruise across the face. One with tattoos. Another one, a lesbian with piercings.
“First time here?” I wish I could say, no, I’m here all the time, I’ve just always got this shocked look on my face. I wasn’t taken aback by the employees’ ink or wounds, but by their enthusiasm. I can’t deal with this kind of spunkiness if I’m expected to muster up the same. It’s one factor too many when I’m ordering a pizza. Sorry.

Instead of “The Signal,’ which I’m an extra in, and which might be visually interesting but conceptually vacant, I see “The Immigrant.” Deciding factor: cinematographer Darius Khondji, one of my favorites. And it’s about one of my favorite time periods, the twenties.
It turns out to be the kind of movie that makes me want to give up writing, let alone movie-making.
Joaquin Phoenix—the things he does with his face—with a gun to his head, with his enemy at the table in front of him, with a woman in his thrall or out of it—his fear, his love and hate, his injuries and injustices. He takes risks, he is vulnerable, he is monstrous, he is human. I mean, my God, I was crying.
Jeremy Renner—the perfect embodiment of the narrative requirement: surprising and inevitable. He is a magician, a dancer, a romantic. How might this turn out poorly for everyone?
Marion Cotillard—as an actress and as her character, she is smarter, more beautiful, more prepared and intuitive than anyone else. But she is trapped. People ask: Why does she stay with a man seemingly responsible for her undoing? Is it because: He understands her? Are they kindred twisted spirits? Is he, in fact, more dedicated, more intelligent, more empathetic, more capable, than anyone else?

The movie is a perfect ball of layers, of being disgusted and compelled by something or someone, and in this way bound. As mentioned, my words are a poor substitute for the movie itself, so I will limit myself to details of anything but the first shot and the last shot:

The opening shot is of the Statue of Liberty, zooming out to reveal the back of a man’s head, looking at it.
At first we think it’s just an image of America, rooting us in a specific time, a symbol of “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But later Marion Cotillard, the immigrant, is made to dress up as the Statue of Liberty, and she is coveted. The first image is actually about wanting to possess: liberty, America, a woman, hope, freedom.

The final shot is of two characters leaving in a boat, seen through a shack’s window, while a third character leaves the shack in the opposite direction—but reflected in a mirror, so it looks like he is joining them. It’s amazing. It’s an elegant solution to a problem: How do we show all of the people in a single shot? How do we play with the fact that the third character is not joining them? Will he, in fact, always travel with them, a memory impossible to abandon?
And it’s also frames within a frame, and a contrast of light and dark—
Darkness is frightening, but, as it envelops, it embraces in amber shadows—
The light is mundane, dull, like you’re going blind, white-blue—

I sit in my chair, stunned, as the credits commence to roll. Then I hear a middle-aged woman complaining to her compatriots: “The extras were too clean! The ending was too happy! Cotillard was miscast!”

She has it completely wrong. I want to shout at her:
A) Don’t you understand that it’s a fairy tale? If you want to see actual immigrants, build a time machine! If you want a movie, try making one!—with extras and sets and costs!
B) Don’t you understand that the film ended on the beginning of the fourth act? It’s not a happy ending—so much is left for us to consider that could go wrong!
C) And how is Cotillard miscast? Her character is a performer, someone who becomes what others want her to be while holding true to the focus within her. It is Cotillard herself. In fact, I later learn that the movie was written explicitly for her!

I return to my car, where I eat the pizza leftovers which I feared would melt from the heat through their box and into my seats. I return to Vroman’s Bookstore to hear an author speak.
He speaks, slower and more Southern than I had assumed from his prose. But he is also my grandma’s age, who’s in a wheelchair, in a home. This guy had dyed hair and glasses, and asked to have questions repeated to him due to “many years of rock concerts,” but we had all assumed he was in his sixties or seventies, not eighties. It must be the Yoga.
He is bound by his publishers to sign only copies of his newest book, and, even then, to write nothing more than his name and the name of the recipient—no personalized messages. But he offers to sign anything sent to his address. He is nothing if not accommodating. I ask him what he normally writes when he is allowed to make personalizations. He says, “Whatever they tell me to. I can’t make anything up.” He is being both ironic and truthful. He is a bestselling author.

He talked about, pre-“career,” being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but how the right place at the right time might have been the wrong place and time, considering he went on to write with such success. I compare this, inescapably, to myself.

On my way back to my apartment after parking my car under the golfing range in Koreatown, I do the math: He has written nine novels, starting in the early seventies. He told us tonight that it takes him about three, three-and-a-half years to write a book (Wikipedia reveals this to be more like four or six). I work backwards. He’s eighty-two now. However you break it down, you’re talking about a forty-year career, nine novels.

 Could he have started earlier? Or would that have been impossible, given the state of his development as a writer at that time? What does true success look like?

I wrack my brain, as I always do, to try to get it to tell me what I want and how to go about getting it.