I’m 38 years old and I sleep on the floor of my friend’s home office…
That’s what I’ve been saying to myself in the mornings, lately, as I birth myself out of the rolled out mat and sleeping bag I call a bed. The phrase means something different every morning. Sometimes I love, it. I’m free of a whole bunch of Things that I don’t really want anyway, I’ll say with my head high. Or I’ll say something like, Jeez, I’m 38 and I sleep on the floor, got no real job, no wife, kids…did I do it all wrong? But most of the time it’s a little of both, and whether I’m free or delusional, on a path or totally lost, everyday seems to be pretty swell. I work hard when I got work. When I don’t, I write, play guitar, see friends.
I’ve also been hiking a lot in the hills behind the Griffith Park Observatory. I usually take the main trail up to the observatory, then a trail up to the hill’s peak, behind it. But last Friday, after entering the park, I went further up the main road, looking for a different trail. I found a service road that wasn’t off limits. At its entrance stood a sign warning hikers to watch out for mountain lions.
I proceeded up the dirt road, hesitantly. Soon, the road dissolved into a trail. I’d yet to see any other hikers on the road, which concerned me. My eyes darted toward every little rustle of leaves or breaking of twigs. I know mountain lion attacks were very rare in the park, but for some reason, at any moment, I expected to hear the roar, turn toward the roar, see the fangs, feel the fangs tearing into my neck just before the Big Light went out. I stopped in the middle of the trail for a moment, debating whether to go back to the main trail. There was no City then. All around me were high hills. No sign of man. It was sunny and warm, but clusters of high light clouds covered parts of the sky. The tempurature would drop by several degrees when a cluster of them would pass between me and the sun. Hot, cold, hot, cold. I floated in the middle of the trail, park, world, for a bit, inclined toward no direction whatsoever, until another human appeared. A short Latino fellow was taking long strides toward me.
“You going up?” he asked.
“It’s OK to? It’s a trail?”
I started walking again and by the time the man reached me we were walking at the same speed. Gradually, the trail grew steeper, with more curves. He took deep breaths, leaned into the incline, used his arms to propel the rest of his body. I did the same. At one point I turned and looked down. The City looked like a circuit board spreading clear out to the Electric Yellow-Blue Water of the Pacific Ocean. Up ahead, a flock of buzzards circled over something dead. On the edge of a cliff, even higher than the buzzards, was the observatory, shining white like some lasting monument from Antiquity.
“I take this trail,” said the man. “Most times. But I take one there,” he pointed to the right, toward the main trail to the observatory. “Or I take,” he pointed to the left, “that one way over there by the big sign…” he held his arms out wide, “…the Hollywood sign, you know.”
“I like to go before work. Like to sweat before work.”
“Where do you work?”
“A liquor store. Down on La Brea.”
“Gotta work the whole weekend?”
“I bet it gets crazy on the weekends, huh? The liquor store?”
“Oh, is crazy. Is crazy all the time.”
“What’s your name?”
He wiped his hand, held it out to me. “Felix.”
We shook hands. “Todd.”
“Nice to meet you, Todd.”
“You too, Felix.”
By now we’d reached the steepest parts of the trail, a switchback winding further up. I was sweating pretty good. So was Felix. For a long time all I heard was our breath and footsteps.
“You from here?” Asked Felix, as we neared the peak of the hill.
I shook my head. “Texas.”
“Oh, Texas. I come up from Texas. From Mexico. Through Juarez, to here. Long, long way.”
“You go home a lot?”
“When I can. I just did for Thanksgiving and will probably get down there around Christmas. Where is home for you, in Mexico?”
He held up two fingers. “Two hours from Mexico City, west. On the coast.”
“You get down there often?”
“I try. I come here. Work. Go back. Work at the liquor store. Or restaurant, or where I can. Then go back. I like it here. I like it there. Both places I like. But back there, I play music, you know, in my town.”
“Si, I don’t work, I just play.”
“Is good. Just the music.”
“You play guitar?”
“So do I.”
“That’s good. You working here? In LA? That why you stay here?”
“Yes and no. I work when I can get it. But I’m just living here, too.”
“What do you do?”
“Build stuff, carpentry. It’s good. I don’t have to work all the time.”
“That’s good. No one should work all the time. Or too hard, you know. Everyone should be, like…happy, you know.”
We’d reached the peak of the hill.
“Well, I go back down. To work. Buenos dias, have a good day.”
“Gracias, you too.”
Felix jogged down the trail leading to the observatory which stood on a ledge below us. I walked around the peak and took a trail on the northern line of the hills, facing the San Fernando Valley.
I ascended a peak that gave me a nearly complete view of The Valley, another vast urban sprawl, stretching all the way out to the Santa Susana Mountains to the north. Another circuit board. Traffic flowed down the Ventura Freeway like blood through a vein. The faint roar of tires on asphalt reached me. It all looks so easily comprehensible from up here, I thought. Then I thought of something a friend of mine said earlier in the summer, “I’ve been all over the world, you know, but I couldn’t find my way out of the San Fernando Valley back I was drinking. My world was so small back then. Funny how you can get lost in small places.”
I turned around and began my journey back to Hollywood. It was only 3pm but the sun had already begun its race to the horizon. I was still sweating but would feel the chill when the wind came.
Joggers huffed and puffed up or down, there were a couple of horse tours, solitary dog walkers. I meandered most of the way down, thinking about nothing or a million things all at once, enjoying the onset of comfortable physical fatigue.
About halfway down, I saw a trail below the one I was following. I descended through the bramble toward it, jumping through bushes and across the old stone aqueduct that squiggled down the hillside. The same buzzards were high above but I never smelled anything dead. All around me were the cracking of twigs and the rustling of leaves but I wasn’t worried about any mountain lions. Usually it would be a couple of birds pecking around that would fly off when I approached. Moments after I’d made it to the trail, I was winding my way through the lawn near the entrance to the park.
I got home, ate a sandwich, sent out some inquiries for work, then played my guitar well into the evening. Later that night, I unrolled the mat and sleeping bag and lay in the darkness. The police choppers were flying lower than usual, probably chasing someone desperate enough to commit some crime. As I listened to the thwump, thwump, thwumps of the chopper, copious black globs of fear and doom floated just above me like a mobile over a baby’s crib. The urge to reach up and grab one or two or a thousand of them was there, but I haven’t gone hungry yet, I thought, and was content to let them all spin and twist above me. Anyway, I was asleep in minutes, tired from the hike. I slept like a baby and woke up early the next morning.