I’m leaving LA soon, so on Wednesday I headed out to the beach at Santa Monica to jump in the ocean one more time. The beach wasn’t crowded. School had started and the vacation season was winding down. Only clusters of very pretty European women lay out on beach towels whilst solo men with thick accents pranced about in man-panties, too afraid to go all the way out to the breakers for the water was very cold. I lay down my towel next to some lovely French ladies and – fearless and American – ran at full speed into the water, dove under an oncoming wave, then swam out past the breakers.
It was a very hot day with no sea-breeze. The waves came in fat and slow. There was a strong riptide, too, so I’d get sucked out as the waves rose, then pushed back toward the shore as they crashed. For some time, I let the waves push and pull me wherever, floating on my back, barely stroking to stay above water.
A squadron of pelicans were out, flying close to the water. Some came within five feet of me. They glided so slow it appeared as if they’d simply drop into the surf if they flew any slower. They were huge, each one around the size of a year old pit bull. Their eyes twitched, feathers glistened as they patiently trucked across the sky. But after they’d pass me, they’d take a drastic upswing, twist in weightlessness, then dive bomb into the water. After they’d pop up above the surface, they’d float on their bellies with something flopping around in their gullet. It looked as if I’d floated into some feeding area of theirs. Pelicans began to splash into the water all around me, like birdrain.
I swam back to shore after my fingers turned blue. The temperatures of the air and water were so extreme. After a few minutes of shaking, panting, I lay down and instantly grew drowsy in the heat. I glanced across the beach to see visible heat waves dance, distorting the shapes of homeless people who call the beach home. I closed my eyes and listened to the French girls next to me say French things until I drifted off to sleep. The crashing waves stayed with me during my slumber – a soundtrack for little day dreams. But when a particularly large wave crashed onto shore I opened my eyes. The French girls were gone, as were many other beach goers. I was beginning to feel the sunburn, so I left, reluctantly.
I hopped on the bus back to Hollywood, but got off in Beverly Hills. I didn’t want to jerk about inside the bus as it wrestled with the rush-hour traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was still very hot but my apartment was hotter, so I figured the long hot walk back to Hollywood would tire me out enough not to care about the heat, leading to a full night’s sleep, which had been rare over the last week. Six miles in flip-flops would do the trick, I was sure.
I waltzed through fancy Beverly Hills. Pretty people wore sunglasses as they enjoyed cocktails out on the sidewalks of cafes. But out in a park along Santa Monica Blvd were the homeless of Beverly Hills, scattered about the short green grass like casualties on a battlefield. The sun was behind the trees. Golden light lay over these wounded, clothed in many layers of dingy clothing. They’d noticed me walk to them, but all they could manage was the opening of one eye, and a turn onto their other side.
About an hour later I was smack dab in the middle of fabulous West Hollywood. It was passed the cocktail hour and the pretty happy people were now being served dinner at tables on the sidewalk. The waiters,dressed in white long-sleeve shirts and black pants, hustled tray after tray out to the tables. Their faces glistened with sweat as they explained the specials for the evening or listened to an order from a patron. They’d smile, say something like, “no problem, it’ll be right out,” but when they turned their faces dropped into exhausted frowns. In the kitchen, out the kitchen. Smile. Frown. Smile…
A few tweakers and drunks were out in West Hollywood but not until I got into Hollywood Proper did I see any serious winos and junkies. By then the sun had set, and I’d walked up onto Sunset Boulevard. There, dark skeletal faces peeked out from door archways – not to plead, but more like to see if Earth was still out there. Satisfied they were still on terra firma, their hollow eyes would fade back into the darkness.
It grew darker and darker, two snakes of headlights hissed down Sunset. The tattooed and scabbed of Hollywood danced across intersections to music only they could hear. Outside the Palladium, a long line of sexy, short skirted, fish-netted, heavily eye-lined jail bait waited for a concert to start. Some smoked by the curb, jumping onto the street every now and then, oblivious to the speeding traffic or the Surgeon General’s warning. I weaved through them. I was almost to the bungalow. It’d been three hours since I got off the bus.
Tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep that night. The bungalow was sweltering. I was also sleeping on the floor – Luis and Andre were almost completely moved out. So I lay on my back and tried not to sweat, in a state of semi-consciousness, where I wandered in and out of the visions of gloomy futures, deep into the quiet hours.
The next day, I helped my friend, Danny, fix up an apartment that he managed – new tenants were moving in. Danny was performing the role of The Porter in Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth, this summer in Griffith Park. I met Danny while I was building the set for the production. Danny’s a great fellow and a hell of an actor. The Porter is a small role but one that requires a the balancing of comedy with foreboding, for the play only gets darker and bloody after The Porter exits. Danny definitely delivers. He begins the role passed out drunk in the audience, finally coming out of his stupor to answer a knock on the doors of Macbeth’s castle. As he makes his way to the doors, he improvises, plays with the audience – to hearty applause and cheers – then delivers this monologue:
Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were
porter of Hell Gate, he should have old turning the
key. Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there,
i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hang’d
himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time!
Have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t.
Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other
devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could
swear in both the scales against either scale, who com-
mitted treason enough for God’s sake, yet could
not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.
Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith,
here’s an English tailor come hither, for stealing
out of a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may
roast your goose. Knock, knock! Never
at quiet! What are you? But this place is too
cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further: I had
thought to have let in some of all professions that go
the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.
Anon, anon! I pray you, remember
Danny improvises a bit more after the monologue, asking random audience members what they do for a living, always insinuating to that hell is an option for all of us, because equivocating is so easy to do for us humans. And no one is immune to resorting to equivocation. Really. Think about it. And, if you’re not sure what equivocation means, look it up here, like I did, then think about it.
“What are you gonna do, Todd?” Danny asked me as we worked in the hot afternoon. “What’s your plan after LA?”
I equivocated, of course, mumbling something about Texas but also about staying in LA. Danny processed my response, his equivocation radar – along with his bullshit detector – easily picking up on my uncertainty. He squinted his eyes as he peered close to the window trim he was painting with a very little brush as he told me, “You can go somewhere and work for a coupla’ years – Alaska or on ships – then come back, buy ya a motorcycle and just ride around. If nothing happens by the time the money runs out, worst case scenario is your right back to where you are now, right? You got nothing to lose. Me, I gotta wife and kids, I can’t do nothin’ like that.”
On Friday morning at 9am it was already 90˚. Luis, myself, The Great Warrior and our friend, Kelly, hung out in the driveway outside the bungalows.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” said The Great Warrior. “My computer told me it was supposed to cool off today.”
Later on I sat dumbly by the window, though no breeze came through at all. I had things to do but couldn’t wrest the willpower from my laziness to do anything. So I sat there, unsure of absolutely everything. Those gloomy visions came rushing in again.
Jason, the tenant in the neighboring bungalow was working on his motorcycle, just outside my window. He’d been working on the bike all summer – taking it apart completely, putting it back together, tuning the engine all day, then taking it apart piece by piece again. Sometimes I think Jason will never ride the motorcycle, that his work on the bike is the sole purpose of his having a bike. He was meant only to put that bike together, take it apart, I thought, a steady practice on his off days to bring together his physical being with his spiritual. Like Gandhi and his spinning wheel, or something like that.
“How’s the bike, Jason?” said John, another tenant in the compound of bungalows. John was from Georgia, and spoke in a high-pitched, slow, hung over and stoned southern accent.
“I’s good, man,” answered Jason – from Alabama – equally as slow.
“Gettin’ her runnin’?”
“Prolly pretty soon.”
“Man, it’s hot, ain’t it?”
“I gotta work in this shit.”
“Yeah,” said Jason, laying on his back, turning a bold with a wrench, “me too.”
“Hey, man,” continued John, “I checked out this video the other night. It was a bunch a videos all put together. Global warming and shit and floodin’ and stuff we all know’s happenin’ but when it’s all right there in front a ya it’s like ‘oh, shit, man’…you know?”
“I mean the temperature’s risin’ all over the place with pollution and all, overpopulation and no more food left. And there’s no bees and entire flocks of birds are fallin’ out of the sky, man.”
“Well, were livin’ in some f#$ked up times, I tell ya.”
John wandered back into his bungalow. Jason continued working on the motorcycle. I got a text from my mother, letting me know my sister just had a baby girl. They named her Arabella Rose Cirio, after her great-grandmother who came here all the way from Italy in the old-timey days. It was exciting news. Another baby, another run at Humanity, another chance of another one of us to live a life beyond the scope of her imagination, as long as she keeps cool in the heat.
Jason was still working on his bike at 1:54pm, when the wind picked up and cooled things down a little.