I went down to Los Angeles three weeks ago. I was in town for exactly 24 hours to file paperwork with the Austrian consulate there in order to obtain my Austrian passport, and to see my dear friend Amissa.
So: I flew into LAX round about 8 pm, and took a shuttle to the Fox Rent-a-Car building to get the cheapest thing they had. The lady who checked me in looked at my driver’s license and told me she was an Aquarius too, and asked me if my hair was my natural hair color. I said: “Aquarius solidarity. And yes, it is!” I prepaid for gas on account of it being $6 a gallon, took the paperwork, and went out into the parking garage to see which piece of shit economy car they had cursed me with. It ended up being a white Mitsubishi Mirage, which is probably the worst car I’ve ever driven, and the same god damn car they give me every single time I go to LA. For some reason they always smell bad, and when you hit 45 mph, the engine starts to shake and makes a sound like a dying lawnmower. You push the pedal all the way to the floor and it sputters and backfires and minutes later you can almost get it up 70.
I had not been to LA in some time. Last time I was there, I stayed with Sarah Pardini (who has since gotten married??), and saw my old friend Emily (not going to link to the wistful entry about her), whom I dated many years ago now. It was a good ol time. Months later, I would move to Berlin, and then have to return to the States because of a worldwide pandemic you may have heard about. Years passed and I had no good reason to go down to LA, on account of everything being closed, and everyone hiding in their houses, and so on.
Though yeah, I sure as shit had a Mitsubishi Mirage during that last trip. That one had been black, and it somehow smelled worse than the white one they foisted on me three weeks ago.
Anyway: I drove that stupid little baby shoe-shaped car straight from LAX to my good friend Amissa’s house in Reseda, in the Valley, and we immediately left to go get Thai food. We went to some place she knew and got a sort of king’s feast of noodles and curry. This was my gift to Amissa, buying her dinner, on account of her graciously putting me up for the night. We ate and left, and outside it was freezing, so Amissa turned on the heat in her car and we ripped down the road back to her place. On the way there, I noticed that gas was $5.45. At the behest of the lady behind the counter, my fellow Aquarian, I had prepaid for $5.80. So right then and there I figured I’d gotten hosed. Last time I rented a car from Fox, they left me stranded in the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and so I was not surprised by my present misfortune. Oh well!
Back at Amissa’s, we posed with her dogs Georgia (the pug) and Peach (the French bulldog). Here we are:
Amissa had to work in the morning, so she made me a bed on her pink couch and went into her bedroom and the dogs followed. I couldn’t sleep so I lay in the dark and stared at the ceiling, which was faintly illuminated by a little mushroom nightlight. Eventually I fell into the black hole in my mind and experienced something resembling sleep.
Next morning, I awoke to an empty apartment. Amissa had left and taken Georgia and Peach. I took a shower and used her nice skincare products and applied SPF 50 and drove to the Austrian consulate, which was ten miles away, but this being LA, it of course took me an hour and a half to get there. I sat in traffic with the AC blasting because outside it was reptile weather.
I got there fifteen minutes late and parked in the shade on a side street. The consulate was in a nondescript office building. Inside I saw no one. I took the elevator up to the fifth floor and opened a grey door and entered a little grey room. A security guard asked for my vaccine card and then took my temperature with one of those little temperature guns. No one had used one of those on me in over a year. I approached a window that was sort of like a bank teller window and a woman walked over and greeted me. She had a thick Austrian accent that reminded me of my grandmother’s. I gave her all my paperwork, my passport photos, a piece of mail proving I lived where I lived, a prepaid envelope for them to send my passport to me, and $85 cash. The passport was $84. She reached into a drawer and slipped a $1 bill through the opening at the bottom of the window. She asked me to take a seat and so I sat down.
Ten minutes later she called me back up and had me sign some paperwork. She asked me how old I was and I said I was 34.
She said: “Do you plan to move to Austria before your 35th birthday?”
“OK. Because if you did, you would have to serve in the military.”
Apparently Austria requires men to do some sort of compulsory military service if you’re under the age of 35. If you claim to be a pacifist, which I am, you can work in a hospital or something like that. I told her that when I go back to Europe, I’m going to Berlin. That was that, and so she handed me a form which grants me the right to vote in elections in Austria. How about that!
The Austrian woman said I was all done, and that my passport would take six weeks to get to me. I thanked her in German (lol) and left.
Back outside, I was feeling real empty in a bodily sort of way, so I strutted down the street to find a coffeeshop or a cafe or whatever. Three blocks away I found what I was looking for and went inside. You can’t make it up: as soon as I stepped foot inside the place, “Vienna” by Billy Joel came on the radio. It was a spooky feeling. I regarded it as a sort of cosmic omen and went up to the counter to order. I got a breakfast burrito and an iced coffee. It cost me $22, which is insane. I got a seat by the window and watched the people on the sidewalk and ate what I would charitably call a modestly-sized meal.
Afterwards I drove to the animal hospital where Amissa works. She came outside with Georgia and Peach and I sat with her while she ate lunch. I guess I was supposed to have brought my lunch with me so we could eat together. Oops! Amissa promised she’d take a train up to Oakland soon, and then I hugged her and the dogs and returned to the top of the parking garage where my stupid little dinky car was roasting beneath the California sun.
Factoring in LA traffic, I had only a few hours to kill before I had to drive back to LAX and go back to Oakland. I thought about visiting Emily at work on Sunset Boulevard, but a quick search showed that the place had gone out of business during the pandemic. I looked up a few more places I like to visit in LA and saw that they had all closed too. A moment of dread passed through me, and then I texted my friend Cara Ellison. She responded immediately and told me to meet her in the business park where she lives and spends the majority of her life since she doesn’t have a car.
So I drove down to this place. I can’t even remember the name of it, but it was creepy as hell. It looked like a place where Lego people would live, or else some place from a bad dream. The grass was immaculate and freakishly green, and the buildings were stark white and featureless, and had little square windows through which you could see only darkness on the other side. The sidewalks were empty. Cara was busy for another hour, so I parked and climbed into the backseat and tried unsuccessfully to take a nap. I have slept in many rental cars, mostly in Los Angeles, but the Mitsubishi Mirage proved to be too small to accommodate my strange habit.
Eventually I got out and dusted off my denim jacket and ran my hand through my greasy black hair and got to walking to the coffeeshop where Cara was waiting for me. It was both hot and chilly out at the same time, which only added to the surreality of the place. I walked up some white stairs into the shade of the coffeeshop and there stood Cara Ellison. I had not seen her since March 2019, when she slept over at my place on account of her being in town for the Game Developers Conference. I had been her date to a party for a game she was the narrative designer for at the time . . . it was a game about horny Victorian vampires that has still not come out.
Back in the present, in the Here and Now, Cara hugged me and bought me a cup of coffee. We sat down and talked about how the United States of America is a total disaster, and how we would both eventually go back to Europe. I would go to Berlin, I told her, and she said she would go back to Scotland, where she’s from. Cara told me she worked for Sony and that they paid her rent and utilities, essentially shackling her to her job. She said if they laid her off, she would be visa-less, and would have to leave the country immediately. She told me also that in Europe, such a thing is illegal, as your employer has to give you notice before letting you go. “And even if you did lose your job, you’d still have health insurance.”
With my time running out, I said good-bye, and we hugged again, and I skulked back to my Mitsubishi Mirage. I turned on the AC and blasted NUMBER GIRL all the way to LAX. I couldn’t wait to get out of Los Angeles. Back at the Fox Rent-a-Car lot, the guy walked around the car to check for any damage, then handed me a sheet of paper. I stuffed it in my pocket. He got inside the car and checked the fuel gauge. Here’s a nice little thing that happened: for all its faults, the Mirage had insanely good gas mileage. I used so little fuel that he considered the tank full, and didn’t charge me the overpriced prepaid fuel fee.
I got on a shuttle to LAX. The flight was miserable, and full of maskless people, but then you already know that. I took BART home from Oakland Airport and collapsed in my bed.
Three weeks passed. A few days ago I opened my mailbox to find the prepaid envelope I had given to the woman at the Austrian consulate. I ripped it open and, hey presto, there was that fated thing that will save me yet:
It goes without saying that my Austrian citizenship and passport are worth their weight in gold. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. I can live, work, and move about freely in all 27 EU countries. I can even retire there, which I most definitely will, in the event I live long enough to do that. When I go back to Germany, I am granted all the rights and privileges of a native-born German . . . including being able to vote in local elections in Berlin. Cool!
Well: it is very late in Oakland, so I’m gonna swallow a bunch of valerian capsules, and some muscle relaxants (compliments of the ER doctor), and go to that black hole in my mind. Well, what else can you do . . . ?
Sweet dreams, my angels~ ☆彡