SOME TIME AGO . . .
My friend / now-fiancée BEX asked me if she and her band could crash at my fortified compound in Oakland, as they were gonna be in town to play a gig at STAY GOLD in West Oakland on July 20th. She said they would be traveling across this fair country of ours, all the way from Asheville, North Carolina, to play in a different city every night, and I just so happened to be in one of those cities. I am always trying to turn my house into a French salon (yeah I just linked to a Wikipedia article) . . . I want people passing through and staying with me as long as they want. I want to be a PATRON of the ARTS, is what I want to be. So when Bex asked if they could all stay here with me, she called down the thunder, and she got it. Says I to her: “Um, duh!”
And so it came to pass that a month to the day, Bex and co. finally arrived in Oakland, California, the “Whatever, Man” capital of the world, having driven many hundreds of miles from Coos Bay, Oregon, with a brief stopover at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, and pulled up right outside my house. I met them on the sidewalk, being Bex and Lila and Maddie and Calvin, and hugged them all. Bex put a paper Jelly Belly hat on my head and we carried all their equipment inside. I made everyone coffee and some of these clowns took showers. Young Lila, the drummer, was amazed at my being in my thirties and having All The Good Stuff—meaning I have nice pillows and shampoo and conditioner and skincare products, and on and on, as you tend to acquire once you get fed up with all the half-assed horseshit you put up with in your twenties. (I may have said this verbatim. . . .)
Alayna came over a little while later and picked up Dante and me to head to SAN FRANCISCO, where Dante was going to have a little vacation with Laura for a few days. I figured he’d be much happier not having to share our apartment with four other people. We dropped his ass off and then sat in miserable deadlocked traffic for nearly two hours to get onto the Bay Bridge.
Back in Oakland, Alayna deposited me on the sidewalk outside my place so I could ghoul myself up with SPF 50 before I made the two-mile hike to Ghost Town, a block away from my first place in Oakland, where Bex and her band were waiting to go on. Dusted to the eyeballs in sunscreen, and beneath the dying light of a setting sun, I made my way over there, finally arriving some time later in a sort of dreamlike trance. I walked into the front door of Stay Gold and said my own name to the sentry stationed there, hoping it finally meant something, and sure enough I saw it writ there alone on the guest list in fat magic marker lettering:
Newly famous, I headed out back where my beautiful friend and my beautiful new friends were seated at a picnic table, and now beckoned by them, I had me a good ol fashioned sit-down right next to Bex. I accepted her offer to take one of her free drinks, some DAMN THING called Pale Horse (upon which DEATH rides), and waited for dear Emma to get there. Despite my ironclad constitution when it comes to virtually any substance one might consider a vice, I felt that blurry feeling in my head right quick on account of my having consumed a total of three hundred calories that day, all of it fruit, and got up and wandered around a little so as not to embarrass myself by saying something truly idiotic in front of relative strangers. Chalk Talk were playing inside, and I followed the sound, as if lulled by it, and leaned against the far wall and listened for a while. I thought: “Dang! They’re pretty talented.” Emma arrived at some point and sidled up next to me and we stood there like brother and sister and let it all wash over us. Bleary-eyed, I glanced down at my phone and read the declarative statements there which I had failed to see before:
CHALK TALK finished up their set, so the crowd dispersed. BEX (the human and the band) lugged their equipment to the front of the room and started plugging shit in. I steadied myself and hung back with a sort of aloofness in an attempt to hide the fact that I had (have) a massive megaton crush on the girl in the white jumpsuit. Emma all the while stood dutifully by my side, her quiet comfort and natural serenity bringing peace to the valley inside me as it always does.
I made a mental note to give Bex my jacket later, what with her being in short sleeves and all, and it being a regular Oakland night (always chilly)—and left my post by the wall and paced around the room until I found the MERCH TABLE, which I dizzily approached so as to get a better look. I decided I was going to ask for a black T-shirt when the time came, and then spied a one-eyed villain and I cannot seem to be rid of. Says I aloud to no one: “Lord, even the god damn minion got a Jelly Belly hat!” Feeling my celebrity slightly diminished, I now regarded the thing with rancor. Damned, most subtly. . . .
Bex mumbled something into the microphone across the room, and so I knew it was time to get back to poor Emma, whom I had left to the jackals and cheese-eaters.
And there was Bex, holding the same bubblegum pink Fender Mustang . . .
. . . that I also happen to own:
I did my best to take a few pictures of them playing without being A Guy Who Takes Pictures The Entire Show:
It was the first time I had been to a show in maybe two years. And the time before that, I had been with Bex herself in Asheville, when I was visiting her there . . . and we had seen some of her friends play that night in a lot behind a dive bar. I remember thinking then the same thing that I thought this night at Stay Gold: that it was nice to be around two dozen or so people, most of them nerds and weirdos or both, and everyone just happy to just Be Somewhere because Being Somewhere is Cool. In other words, it was a low stakes affair. It was a cool thing to bear witness to and be a part of because why not. In a world as spiritually bankrupt as this one, you’ve got to regard these little human gatherings with a sort of warmth and hold them tightly inside to get you by until the next one comes along, if ever. What else can you do, really, when you get down to it? Crawl into a ditch and die??
I’m not going to sit here and describe music, though I will say this: my friend is very talented and enterprising, and god love her for it. You’ve got to respect the fact that she somehow put all this together, this driving around the entire country, and into Canada and back, racking up something like 6,000+ miles by the end of it all . . . and playing a different show in a different city just about every night to a crowd of strangers who dig her stuff. And so saying, I felt compelled to support her. She took the Jelly Belly hat off the minion and placed it upon my raven hair as though it were a sort of crown, and I bought a T-shirt and a li’l poster that she later hung up in my room above my desk. But before that we posed for the whole world. I was a little spaced out, but I had remembered to give Bex my maroon hoodie, and I can tell Emma took this picture because of the low angle (she is about 6 or 7 inches shorter than us). Lo:
Afterwards we all went out back again. It was cold and Emma and I sat down on a picnic table and hung around for a while. I saw Maddie hauling all their shit out of the bar and back onto the sidewalk where Bex’s car was parked, and having spoken to her very little, I went over and bummed a cigarette and we smoked together and talked. I guessed that her full name was Madeline, and she told me everyone always guesses it’s Madison. I had once dated a Maddie, I said, who was also a Madel(e)ine, and so I figured that was the case . . . and we talked about astrology as you sometimes do, and about being from the East Coast, and on and on. I got that flurrying sense in my brain that I was talking to someone truly genuine, and I felt very glad indeed to have met someone like her.
Calvin split to hang out with An Old Friend, and Emma took off to head back to Berkeley . . . so everyone climbed into the car, packed to the gills now with instruments and a month’s provisions, and I drove everyone the mile and half to my fortified compound by the lake where everyone was very excited to collapse in various places around my living room. Back at STARSAILOR HQ, we lugged everything worth over $100 inside, and I flipped the kettle on to make some Sleepytime tea. I made Lila a bed on the couch, Maddie a bed on my rug at her insistence, tucked them both in, kissed Maddie on the head, and then Bex and I went into my room and I flipped off the lights and turned on my fan and we talked for an hour in the dark. And while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolved round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy, knowing my friend was there next to me. I held her close to me and fell into a dark and dreamless sleep.
Next morning early, Bex and I lay there talking again, CONTENT TO BE LOST IN OUR REVERIES—and because I am an insufferable loser, I of course recalled one of my favorite chapters from MOBY-DICK, which I am now helpless to quote here, to wit:
How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.
But we both knew the ceiling was steadily creeping down upon us, which is to say time was sacred and growing scarcer, what with the band having to get down to LA before the next show that evening. Staring down the barrel of a six- or seven-hour drive, I told her we had better get up. I slid into the living room where Lila was lying on my couch on her phone. She told me Maddie had gone for a walk around the lake. I went into the kitchen and made a French press full of BLACK MAGIC, and Bex and I took turns pouring batter and flipping pancakes on my stove.
Calvin returned from the abyss, and Maddie from her Lake Walk, both having missed out on a short stack of silver dollar pancakes, and I felt a sadness knowing my friends were leaving soon. I had for two months found myself growing grim about the mouth—had found myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I met. Once they left, I knew I’d be going back down to Skeleton Town, so to speak. Thinking there was nothing to lose, and not wanting to depart from them just yet, I pulled the Make Myself Useful Card: “Wait. What if I came with you? I’ll drive the whole way. I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket!”
And it was quickly agreed that my presence as a stowaway would be just fine. I shotgunned whatever coffee slime was left there in my French press, went into my room and tossed some black socks and black T-shirts into my black backpack, and we grabbed all ten thousand pounds of equipment scattered around my living room and Tetris’d it into the back of Bex’s car. I equipped myself with my white Blublockers and we departed from my fortified compound and sped onto I-5 south at about a hundred miles an hour down to Los Angeles . . . with BEX taking the wheel from time to time, my leaden foot steady upon the accelerator, and the ultimate fate of our five souls blowing through the hot wind tunnel of that two-lane highway and surrounded on both sides by a barren nowhere of sun-scorched earth which seldom sees rain. The path to my fixed purpose was laid with iron rails, whereon my soul was grooved to run. I was resolute to get us to Glendale in time.
Barring some disaster, we were gonna make it there no problem, with LITTLE BABY BREAKS allotted for gas and a trip to In-N-Out—specifically the one I always stop at by accident every single time I drive down to LA, being the one in Kettleman City next to Bravo Land, which is a strip of weird fake frontier towns. The parking lot of this particular In-N-Out is always clogged with tour buses headed to god only knows where, and the In-N-Outside itself packed with all the miserable creeps who’d piled out of said tour buses to piss all over the bathroom floor and to sink their tourist teeth into their first Double-Double.
When we did finally roll into the In-N-Out lot on that fateful day, the place was mercifully devoid of buses, and the restaurant devoid of people from Ohio. Bex and Lila and Maddie formed a circle in the shade outside while Calvin and I strutted inside like a couple of hot jerks. We got everyone Neapolitan shakes, and then the five of us bolted. I cranked the AC as we screamed onto the ramp to LA. It was something like 110 degrees outside and Bex and I decided we were going to get married.
We drove for many hundreds of miles, carving our way through the insanity of those hot red canyons beyond the Grapevine, and almost being pulverized by a dozen or so hellbent-homicidal tractor trailers, when I was suddenly thrust out of a mindless trance, as I saw it shining plain there upon the horizon: the dark paradise which is called Los Angeles—that cartoon nightmare city home to four million souls, where I had spent many strange days and nights over the last decade and some change. It was maybe the hundredth time I had been there in as many years, and I figured it would probably be the last time I would see it for some time. And so as I navigated Bex’s little white Subaru down those ultra-wide freeways clogged with idling cars that would kill this planet yet, I felt I should at least savor it to the best of my ability in whatever personal, Ryan-centric way with which I come at the world, and so I did.
As we sputtered into Glendale, the tank was hovering just above empty, our bodies were near useless, and just about everyone had to piss so badly our collective stream could have bore a hole all the way through Earth’s upper mantle. But before we had time to attend to our corporeal emergencies, I made everyone pose like mannequins to document our timely arrival for future generations:
(L to R: Maddie, Bex, Calvin, Lila)
Bex and Lila and Calvin went inside, and I sat down with Maddie on the asphalt and we smoked cigarettes together and talked about how weird it is that the venue was called JUNIOR HIGH. Afterward I putzed around the block and saw that we inhabited an island surrounded by car dealerships, and wondered at it, and feeling bodily decimated and vaporous, decided I wanted a gigantic cup of coffee to hook me back into the heavens where I belonged. I went in through the back door of the venue, dimly lit and sparsely populated, and asked THE BAND if they wanted coffee too, and received a unanimous “yes” . . . and so saying I grabbed Maddie and we got to moving, and walked four or five blocks up the wide boulevard toward a Peet’s Coffee, which you can never seem to escape in California. The sun was setting and all I wanted to do was suck down a 16-ounce black Americano in the company of the little angels I had come there with.
As a way of (secretly) thanking these same angels for granting me a temporary reprieve from the damp, drizzly November in my soul, what with their having let me bum along with them, I bought everyone coffee . . . and when the barista asked for my name, I of course gave her the name which I am known by in some circles, being—
☆ HOLLYWOOD RYAN ☆
Outside again, the air was warm, and Maddie, who was my New Best Friend, walked with me back to Junior High while everyone else drove.
Now coked on caffeine, BEX plugged in and made some noise, and I got as close as I could to take a few pictures . . . a real smash-and-grab operation so as to once again avoid being A Guy Who Takes Pictures The Entire Show—and once I’d done my job, I tunneled through the crowd towards the back of the room and leaned against the wall. I glanced around the room and knew that, with the exception of Calvin and Bex, I was definitely the oldest person in the room by at least ten years. So be it. At any rate, The Kids dug it . . . as any reasonable person would when in the presence of something earnest and wholly unpretentious, which is exactly what this show was.
Afterwards, Maddie and I hung out in the GREEN ROOM, and soon after were joined by CHALK TALK, who were in disbelief that I am 34 years old. I introduced myself as Hollywood Ryan with, I guess, zero irony. I thought: if you’re going to around calling yourself something like that, you’ve got to at least believe that that is what you are. Chalk Talk were very nice and I liked them. I don’t know how anyone could not.
When Chalk Talk filed out to start setting up their equipment, Bex materialized, as if in a dream, and took some pictures of us in the funhouse mirror, because let’s face it: we look like a couple of Saturday morning cartoon characters.
Bex took off to go sell merchandise and talk to The Kids, and so I went out the back door to hang out in the lot there, not wanting to get in anyone’s way. Back outside I saw that it had become nighttime. I had not known it, having been inside that windowless mini-warehouse. I sat down by a chainlink fence and a girl said hello to me from the shadows beneath the eaves of the building. Not being able to see her, I said hello back, and then we sat in silence, as that is what we had both gone out there to do.
Once it was time to split, the five of us packed the car again, and then Calvin took off with Another Old Friend. Smelling like a duffel bag filled with rained-on newspaper, I climbed into the driver’s seat and drove Bex and Maddie and Lila and I to Fred62, a diner in Los Feliz that I had last visited with The LA Angels on our annual trip some years before. At this point we were all heavily sleep deprived and essentially braindead. We sat down in a plush booth and ordered $80 worth of coffee and carbs.
Content though we were to be supping together, I think some exhaustion is evident in us here, save for Lila whose Youth and Unassailable Spirit make her impervious to such things:
Yeah. Cute as a pailful of kittens.
We paid the man and drove through the darkness to Lincoln Heights, where we were staying with an Internet Guy—a concept that I reckon is more common to me than not. This was a real nice guy. He showed us how to use his fancy filtered water thing, and introduced us to his cat Mochi, and then gifted us a king’s bounty of pillows and blankets, which was just what the doctor ordered, as we were in want of any creature comforts at all. Maddie and Lila claimed the two couches, and Bex and I took a partially deflated air mattress in the office.
Being that I was accidentally a sort of appendage to the group, or something adjacent to an interloper, I had prepared myself, as I always do, to sleep outside or in a car or on the floor . . . so it was a nice surprise to avoid those familiar fates, and to share a bed with a Cute Girl instead. Dressed in big black T-shirts, she and I talked for a while in the dark, with her falling asleep within seconds of saying she would, and so I lay there in the gloom fully awake and holding her, my arm falling asleep and me not minding, and finally passing out sometime later once my brain mercifully overheated and shut everything down for the night. I once again lucked out and experienced a dark and dreamless sleep . . . the kind you have when you’re holding someone who smells good and is nice to you.
Next morning I awoke to find Calvin in the living room, and somehow we figured out we both know HALIFAX KATE. Calvin intended to disappear once again, and realizing this might be the last time we saw each other for a while, what with me heading back up to Oakland in a few hours, we posed for a picture in the back lot:
Calvin tossed a smoke bomb onto the pavement and vanished once and for all, so I drove everyone back to Los Feliz to get COFFEE and MORNING PASTRIES. I had phoned my friend Cecelia for evac, as she happened to be returning to the Bay Area the very same day, and planning to stay with me for a few days once we got back. Though they soon had to leave for San Diego to meet up with Chalk Talk and do it all over again, my friends graciously waited for Cecelia with me, and we walked around the neighborhood with our little coffees and our little pastries until she got there.
As though I were everyone’s grandma, I once again had us Pose For Posterity:
When Cecelia pulled up, I hugged and kissed everyone good-bye, and told Maddie I would see her again in Asheville in August, and told Bex I would see her again in Berlin in October. WITH GREAT SADNESS I departed from them. Cecelia floored it and we rocketed out of the city, retracing the reverse path up I-5 I had taken 24 hours before, only now I was going to a place where I absolutely did not want to be. We talked about the end of the world for a while, and eventually I slumped over and passed out until we got to Skeleton Town.
Back inside my fortified compound, I was exhausted to the point of total annihilation and wished I were in San Diego. I tossed my bag onto my bed, still unmade from the day before, and found an orange-blonde hair on my pillowcase and felt a sadness. On my wall was the poster Bex had hung there. On my bed was the shirt she had given me, which she had sprayed with her perfume. I put it on and turned out the lights and fell asleep while the sun set, having no alternative, on the nothing new behind my long black curtains.