ECHOES FROM OTHER HOBOS #3: The Fast One, The Still One, and The Runner by Talia Gibas

The Fast One

She runs behind and slightly to his left, watching the quick, short puffs of his breath in the crisp winter air. He runs like water flows over rocks, elbows tucked against his body, feet hitting the asphalt in a smooth, soothing beat. She understands the mechanics of running downhill – lean forward, fall into it, take short steps, and let gravity do the rest – but rarely embraces them. She lacks his grace, his impossible beauty. But she wants to keep up with him, mechanics be damned. She tilts forward and feels her speed increase, her feet stumbling to catch her. She wonders how fast she is going. She is exhilarated.

Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas

Together they duck under the park gates and bound through the grass median on Vermont Avenue. When they burst onto the sidewalk at Los Feliz Boulevard he turns left and she follows, startling unsteady packs of revelers weaving their way home. “Happy New Year!” she calls. They respond by clutching one another’s shoulders and heaving boozy, heartfelt good wishes into the air. A giggly young couple whoops and sways under a streetlight. “Fuck yeah!” someone shouts from a car, while a near-middle-aged woman hangs out the backseat window with a noisemaker at her lips, delivering an absurd trumpet solo to the neighborhood.

Bleary-eyed bar employees sweep confetti from their path as they dart on and off the sidewalk. She plucks a party hat from an open windowsill and slides it over her beanie. He doesn’t notice until he slows to a trot on her street. “Look at you,” he says, and snaps a photo. “Green eyes.” Her face, already flushed from exertion, warms further.

Inside her apartment they exchange damp running clothes for old sweatshirts. He stretches across her couch to kiss her. “Are you happy?” he asks.

“Yes,” she murmurs. “Very.”

“Happy New Year,” he says. “The world didn’t end.”

“Nope,” she responds with a grin. “Not yet, anyway.”

They met in the fall. He was standing in a gaggle of people doling out stories and jokes but left them abruptly to stride toward her. “Green eyes,” he noted by way of hello. On December 30 he asked her to describe her ideal New Year’s Eve. “I want to be running,” she said. “I don’t want to be schmoozing with a bunch of people I barely know. I want to be in Griffith, on my favorite road, so if the world ends at midnight I am doing something that brings me joy.”

He tilted his head to the side. “That sounds fun.”

“You think so?”

“I do. Too bad the park’s closed.”

“Yeah. And too bad I didn’t think of this earlier, so I could berate friends into going with me.”

“You don’t think they would?”

“They have plans.”

“True.” He paused. “Too bad.”

Two hours later her phone rang. “T, what’s up?” he said in his bright, sing-song way. “My party fell through and I have this neat idea for New Year’s…”

He arrives at her apartment at 10:30 and they start running at 11. She has a tiny flashlight zipped in her pocket; he jokes about mace. They practically tip-toe past the stately mansions outside the park, as if running at night were a crime. Once they hop around the gate at the park entrance they ease into quicker strides, slowing every now and then again to take in the view, or to whisper to one another how fucking cool it is to be doing this. When they are well past the Greek Theater she switches on her flashlight and is startled by the eyes of coyotes staring out at her. Two dart across her path, but the rest watch and blink.

Outside the Observatory they crouch behind restrooms, dismayed by the security guard driving in circles near the entrance. “Champagne,” she whispers. “If we give him some champagne he’ll let us stay.”

“Champagne from a water bottle?”

“Worth a shot.” She takes three steps and the guard switches on his high beams. “Shit!” She darts back and they take off, giddy and giggling. Ten minutes later they stand at a break in the brush a quarter-mile downhill from the Observatory and look down at the city. “What time is it?” she asks.

He shakes his head. “I didn’t bring a watch. Did you?”

“No. Shit.”

“We could ask the security guard.”

“Maybe we – “ She stops. Something is rumbling against the bottom of her feet.

A half-second of panic splits through her body; her first instinct is that it’s an earthquake. Then a silver light flashes above downtown and she realizes, holy shit, it’s the city, it’s the millions and millions of people below starting to bellow and hug and cheer in the near-freezing air, their voices crashing into car horns and drums, fireworks, pots and pans, clashing together into a roaaaaaaar that jumbles and stumbles and rises and grows and grows, gathering speed, sweeping over the beaches, across the west and south and east edges of Los Angeles and over downtown, rising higher and higher with each scream and shout until it washes over them sending coyotes scattering to the hills and she realizes this is it, she is in love with him, this is what it is to be finally, completely sure, to know that he is the one for her, that together they are invincible and therefore meant to be.

As the roar recedes he turns to start back down the hill she launches after him, gasping and stumbling and gleeful in the darkness.

Months and months later, on the cusp of June, she sits across from him at a table in Thai Town and stares at a half-eaten egg roll. The pain in her left calf is unrelenting and her mouth is dry. She’d never noticed how his impatience radiated from his skin, how he couldn’t stop looking at his cell phone, how he called the waitresses “sweetheart.”

“Just tell me,” she stammers. “Tell me why you did it. Why you pursued me. You knew me, you knew how I felt about you. You knew that if I knew you were with someone else I would never – I would never have…”

He folds his arms across his body and stares at her. “I was attracted to you.”

It’s got a real clear view of things.

They exchange stiff farewells in the parking lot and she turns alone onto Hollywood to walk home. When she steps onto a crosswalk the strain in her calf brings tears to her eyes. Nice, she thinks bitterly. And you thought yourself a runner. The headlights of his car come up behind her and she tries to adjust her gait, determined not to limp as he passes. A sullen man on a bike approaches on the sidewalk.

I was attracted to you. As if explaining why he’d ordered chicken instead of beef.

She steps to the side to make room and vomits onto a fence post. An unsteady figure hoots from outside a liquor store. “Shit, baby, shiiiit!” he calls. “That’s no way to start your summer.”

It is a long time before she is able to cross the street, the Observatory winking above her.

 * * * *

The Still One

They sit on a bench on a mild summer night and she notes to herself that she never thought she’d fall for someone so quiet. In the short time she has known him she has been struck by the care with which he chooses his words, as if each were a precious marble he examines against his palm before sending it out in the world. In more playful and inspired moments he would take aim and send one hurtling her way, knocking her into a giggle fit or making her skin hum with the timbre of sunset. Tonight’s, however, are made of more fragile glass. He offers each politely, one by one, and she holds them to her chest, determined to keep any from falling and rolling away. They are nearing the end of August, and he will be leaving soon.

They wandered here side by side, walking along Franklin Avenue and up and down side streets to the top of Barnsdall Park, where they shared stories of a city oddly lovely from above. Finally they settled on this bench on a quiet street. They have been trying to determine why, exactly, they met when they did, at an inconvenient moment when they could do little more than pass through each other’s lives. It is getting late. She tucks her knees against her chest and he puts his head in his hands. She tries not to cry.

“What do you think some wise soul would tell us to do,” she says, “if they knew about this situation?”

“I don’t know,” he replies, his voice low. He pauses. “Actually. I do know. They would ask us, ‘Are you in love?’ Because if we are, then none of the rest matters.”

The word “love” lands like a hysterical toddler sprawled on the floor of her lungs. I don’t know! it wails. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know! I don’t know because I don’t know how to know, and maybe I never will, but now I want to know you, and this knowing thing may be bullshit or it may be true, but let me sit here in this stillness and this not knowing with you.

Neither of them moves. The question bobs politely in the air for a moment before giving up and floating away – toward the Observatory, perhaps, where a less inconvenienced pair might make use of it.

A few days later, as a ripe, uncomfortable humidity descends on the city, she sits to write what she does know. This, she thinks, can be a parting gift, an homage to vague ideals like Transparency and Gratitude. The first draft is an inkblot of false starts, scribbles, and do-overs. The second is hastily copied onto fresh paper in a coffee shop. When she pauses to stretch out her fingers, a well-coiffed barista looks over her shoulder. “Hand-written,” he says approvingly. “Old school. I like that. Safe. You can’t google that shit.”

She is encouraged but when she squashes the envelope in her back pocket a fragment of bone and muscle trembles against her bottom rib. In deciding to write she had underestimated how difficult it would be to know that tangible evidence of her feelings existed in the world. It was one thing to express these things in person. It was another to write them down, and quite another to hand them over, relinquishing the power to rewrite, edit, or destroy.

She knows their goodbye will be stunted and chaotic, but as she stands before him, reaching into her pocket, she is startled by a craaack! in her side. He takes the envelope from her hand and she realizes with horror that he is taking a small chunk of flesh and bone with it.

“Thank you,” he says, apology, exhaustion, and hesitation curling the edges of his voice. “I have to… I gotta go.”

She feels the ground fall away. Oh god, what I wrote… It will bleed all over your hands…! Helplessly she watches as he drops it into the plastic bag he is holding, far outside of her reach. She tries to calm herself as she speeds home, clenching/unclenching/reclenching her steering wheel. Maybe in the bustle of uprooting his life he will forget about it. Maybe, as August mellows to fall, it will sit in that plastic bag, bleeding away. Maybe he will find it months or years from now, mixed in with his belongings, and sputter “Fuck!” in dismay when he realizes it has spilled all over his favorite shirt, as she does when she opens luggage to find a shampoo bottle has exploded inside.

Maybe she will never know.

Maybe knowing is overrated.

Maybe quiet stillness between two confused people is more akin to love than the feverish clamor of those who feel certain.


On the first day of September she jogs through the muggy twilight of Griffith Park, wincing at the pain in her legs. A car passes and the driver, a woman, glowers disapprovingly. It’s getting dark. You shouldn’t be running out here at night.

Her breath ragged, she shifts to a walk, giving each leg a brief shake in a futile attempt to dislodge cement from her muscles. She stares down at the city. The salt of her sweat is beginning to crust along her arms. The bottom of her right foot feels tender and her hip is cramping. She remembers a day before injury, when running was exhilarating. She ran carefree only to spiral into gloom when some inevitable, idiotic adventure would leave her sidelined with a fracture or pulled Achilles. She isn’t afraid of pain. Sometimes she relishes it. Whatever this is, however, is a little more complicated.

She looks around. She needs to determine her route home. Ahead of her the road slopes up and to the right. She is about a half mile from the Observatory, maybe less. She could sprint the hill toward it, collapse in a patch of grass at the top. Or she could turn and run back down the way she came.

The mechanics of running uphill are strangely similar to the mechanics of running down: lean forward, fall into it, take short steps, and let gravity do the rest. A key difference, of course, is the level of discomfort. Downhill is full of abandon and glee. Uphill requires patience to pace properly, acceptance of vulnerability, and faith that the body will recover at the top.

Below her Los Angeles shuffles and snorts. She looks up toward the Observatory and begins to run again.

imageTalia Gibas is known to her artsy friends as “that crazy triathlete” and to her triathlete friends as “that Shakespeare girl.” She manages arts education programs at the LA County Arts Commission and is Associate Editor of Createquity. She ponders, volunteers, nerds, and merrily verbs words in Los Angeles. She would like to put on a play. 

In The Middle Of A Crap Game

Hello Everybody,

20130607_131229Greetings from Hollywood, just a few blocks away from the last Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, just east of Highway 101. This part of Hollywood is the location to both Thai Town and Little Armenia – an interesting mix. The Thais control all the restaurants and massage parlours and the Armenians have a stronghold on the clothing boutiques, specifically the male jogging suit, a popular garment in the neighborhood that – seems go great with chain smoking, gold chains and shaved heads.

But I don’t think either group has control of the motel industry here on Hollywood Blvd. The motels possess a character that can only be linked to Pure-Blooded Faded Americana. Real classy joints like the Premier Motel (“Direct Dial In” & “King Sized Water Beds”), the Harvard Motel (“Adult Movies”) and the Hollywood Star Inn (“Clean Rooms”) are abound in the neighborhood. All harken from another time when Farm Boy or Farm Girl got off the bus in Tinseltown, checked into a modest room at one these fine establishments ran by a mothering motel clerk who would keep an eye out for starry-eyed kid as they made their way in pictures. Today, the motels are more like watering holes in the Land of Nod. Red-eyed wanderers meander outside the motels displaying the mark of Cain. Just like Cain, the land is not friendly to them – their crops never yeild. So they hover, underneath the neon Vacancy sign – bad Houdinis trying to disappear until they pass out somewhere.

Wasting in the Land of Nod.

Wasting in the Land of Nod.

The other day, I wandered through a group of Mexican day laborers outside the Home Depot on Sunset Boulevard. The weather – of course – was beautiful and one is never without view of a palm tree. I guess I was looking at one of these palm trees when I heard one of the trajaboderos yelling something at me in Spanish. He was walking toward me – the movement of his mouth seemed out of synch with his words – waving a fistfull of dollars, money bursting from his clenched hand. The money and his voice combined with the cool breeze in the warm sun made me feel – for a moment – as if I’d entered some sort of inverted universe where Working People controlled their lives instead being controlled by all-mighty Currency. Here in this new cosmos, a person could literally start with nothing and – through their own capabilities – build a fulfilling life that is its own reward and security and freedom and money is merely a thing to be waved in the air as if it were a party favor, to be thrown aside after it is used. What a world, I thought, but stopped thinking that when I noticed all the guys were frowning at me. One shook his head, looked down at my feet. I looked down to see spinning dice. I’d walked right into their crap game – rudely, according to the apparent disappointment of the fellows. I smiled and shook my head in a typical white aloof manner, then disappeared into the Home Depot.

Rollin' the bones...

Rollin’ the bones…

After picking up a few things that I needed for the carpentry job I’ve been hired to do – I was hired by Independent Shakespeare Company to built the set for their summer productions in Griffith Park – I continued to walk along Sunset. Moments later, I passed the Bronson/Sunset Studios, then the Gower/Sunset Studios, and a few other studios. None of these were the giganto blockbuster studios, but they still carried a bit of that magical appeal the movies always give me, and they were surrounded by high walls, interspersed with wrought-iron gates and checkpoints like the bigger studios. Above the walls I could just see the tips of buildings – beyond the gates I could glimpse a little of the backlot. Walking next to the walls on the sidewalk, they seemed to actually lean over me. The tips of the iron gates were like speares. Then everything went Kafka – the walls started to talk to me. We show you, said the walls, just enough to know the magic is there. But we will not show you the magic. Go forth, back into Nod, and pay for the magic when we offer it to you.

“Man,”said Luis, my buddy who I’m saying with, who teaches an acting workshop in Burbank. “Where I teach, we have these giant windows that overlook two big studios. You can see right down into them and see what’s going on. Like it’s just a matter of getting on the other side of the glass.”

Luis is a company member of Independent Shakespeare – he’ll be protraying McBeth this summer. He’s a profoundly talented artist who like most others of the breed has to do a million different other things to pay the bills or almost pay them, then maybe eat afterwards. Something cheap. We walked passed some winos, then Luis jumped on the subway to go to teach in front of those windows and I walked further into Nod.

20130607_131216-1I spent the last 3 days building the set. I rode to and fro on the bus with various and sundry Mexican-American workers wearing polo shirts sporting the logos of grocery stores, bus boy or cook uniforms, or a name tag. Coming or going, they looked tired. I worked 12 hours each day – starting in the evening and working into the early morning. I was tired too, but I didn’t mind. I was fortunate, I suppose. My job wouldn’t last forever and I could look forward to whatever came around the bend next.

“Nice shoes, man,” said a man to the man sitting beside me.

“Thanks,” said the other man. His shoes looked to be nothing more than fancy tennis shoes.

“Say, you a lawyer, or somethin?”

“No man.”

“Well, you gotta be somethin’ to get some shoes like that, right. Say, I’m gonna be 57 on June 23rd. 57, can you believe that? My earliest memory is of my mamma buying me some shoes. Funny how that’s my first memory, right. Man, all growing up, we wore shoes until they fell off. Hey, you know if the Dodgers won last night?”

Weirdly, transcendence can often be indistinguishible monotony.

Weirdly, transcendence can often be indistinguishible monotony.

I sink into carpentry. I feel light on my feet and sweat buckets doing it. I kind of transcend into a meditative state, too. I used to hate carpentry – and hate being good at it – because back then I was an artist of the highest caliber and if you didn’t know that then I would be more than happy to tell you, then tell you that people like me have to toil the hours away because I don’t have it as easy as you. Carpentry nursed my victimhood, for I could walk around in my dirty sweat-stained clothes and artistic zeal and shout that, I will, nonetheless, continue the toil because that’s what strong artistic people do…and so forth.

I made my peace with carpentry some time ago. Since, then putting wood together has become some sort of cosmic transference, maybe even a type of madness that makes everything else disappear, even myself, especially myself. Caked in sawdust, bent over with my nose nearly touching the wood…saw, glue, staple, screw…whatever gets the job done…another piece down, another, another, then it’s 3am…stretch my neck…I’m a little dizzy…I smell the lumber in the air and I dare say I’m happy.

The night before I started the job, I took a walk into the Hollywood Hills. I walked up Beachwood which offers a clear view of the Hollywood sign, looming high just beyond a few small hills.The evening was cool after the sun had fallen. In the gloaming, pleasant people walked their dogs. They stopped to talk to each other as their dogs sniffed each other’s asses – the curious little creatures seemed content, never barked.

Go ahead, roll 'em...

Go ahead, roll ’em…

Lights in the houses on the hills started coming on, one by one. As more lights clicked on, these houses seemed to be suspended in an  milky ether with a little static electricity mixed in. I looked up at the Hollywood sign but couldn’t see it anymore, though I was much closer to it. All of the hills below the sign Hollywood that seemed so insignificant and small when I began my walk to the Hollywood sign, now surrounded me, towered over me – they even seemed downright impossible to climb, but for fortune, I suppose. Or something like it.

Be well…