It’s Day 24 in Los Angeles and I applied to work at Hooters yesterday. I sat in my parked car on Hollywood Blvd at 11 in the morning and poked and toyed with my cleavage until it was kinda propped under my chin. I took a sip of the beer I had poured into my Kleen Kanteen (yes, at 11am), and that thing happened that always occurs after I take a single sip of alcohol– my chest flushes, my eyes fill with tears, my heart tightens, and I am flooded thinking about all the possibilities for me and my life. There I was– in my car, drinking beer before noon, hoping my nipples weren’t showing, feeling very far from my dreams, and trying not to let any tears run my mascara because I still had to prance into Hooters and hum along to Taylor Swift as I filled out an application.
I’m reaching that part of the journey where things start to get a little murky. I can’t find a job, I don’t have an agent, the sight of celebrities and actors fills me with longing and dread, I’m running out of money, I feel selfish, I’m whining myself ragged, I don’t want to be an actress, the monster is here. It’s that particular brand of confusion and self-loathing that can make morning drinking and Hooters applications seem like good ideas. Job hunting, auditioning, hustling for an agent– these things do violence to notions I have of myself as individual. I feel like one of too many, I want to drink and sleep and eat fried food covered in creamy salad dressing in bed. Under the blankets. Wearing a sweatsuit. With the heat on. And the lights off. And no toilet paper anywhere in the apartment. Wait, but if I do that, I probably won’t get hired at Hooters. And I need a job. Damn.
But maybe there’s something to be said for moments like these, too. After the initial flare-up, there’s usually a reminder, albeit a tiny one, of why I’m here, of what I crave, of how many people I love, of all that is right in my world. For me, yesterday, it was knowing that in a few hours, after applying to ten more restaurants, I would be driving home. I would pull up to my apartment on Elmwood Avenue, I would give my roomate’s dog, Boo, a kiss, and I would open all of the living room windows. The afternoon breeze would come in, the hardwood floors would be warm from the sunshine, I would play Townes Van Zandt and change into shorts and lean against a wall with my legs crossed in front of me. I would think about watching the newest disc of “Game of Thrones,” I would contemplate walking over to Larchmont and getting an ice cream cone and a book. I would definitely have a glass of white wine. I would let the time, the air, the space, the hope wash over me. And so I knew, even as I checked the “no criminal history” box on my Hooters application, that there might be something else on the other side of all of this.
Yesterday, Lynn took me to the Farmers’ Market on Larchmont Blvd. She introduced me to the simple pleasure of market sampling. We snacked on pears and strawberries and artichoke dips and cheesy bread, and there was a musician playing an acoustic cover of “Come As You Are.” Wonderful Sunday morning.
My closest friend in Los Angeles is the GPS lady on my iPhone. For those first few days, I couldn’t get anywhere without her. I clung to her, I relied on her voice, I trusted everything she told me. I was like a young child with a parent on the first day of school– I know if GPS lady wore a skirt, I would bury my face in it, cling to her legs, and beg her not to leave my side. If I missed a turn, went down the wrong boulevard, she never got frustrated. She simply rerouted and got me back on course. Sometimes I found myself wishing she could say more. More than “Turn right on La Cienega.” On long drives, I had her voice to keep me company, but wouldn’t it have been nice if we could laugh together at all those crazy LA drivers? I wished she could give me advice (her voice– albeit automated– is still smooth and authoritative). If she could talk back, I definitely would have teased her for how she pronounces “destination.” She says “des-TOE–nation” and it’s just the cutest little thing ever.
But now I’m beginning week three in Los Angeles and I’m learning my way around a little more. My heart doesn’t leap into my chest every time I pull my car onto the road and I’m not as tentative with directions. I’m trying to push myself to navigate on my own, so I don’t use my GPS as much. But I miss my friend. I miss having her voice by my side as I begin to find a place for myself in this city. We felt like partners in crime; hacking through the LA smog and traffic together, determined to find that damn Trader Joe’s if it killed us, and now. Well, now I kind of feel like the Lone Ranger.
It’s funny– for the last few days, when I have used my GPS, it has been a little out of whack. The visuals are okay, but GPS lady’s voice navigation hasn’t been keeping up with the map. It could be that I need to update both my phone and my Google maps app. Or. Maybe my buddy feels a little abandoned. Maybe this new separation is hard for her, too.
I’m on my way to class and even though I know how to get there, I think I’ll use my GPS to guide me. I like her voice and I like what it reminds me of– new places, new friends, and those unlikely beats of connection that keep you going.
It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Los Angeles. Two weeks of driving everywhere and being on the lookout for fake boobies and texting home about celebrity sightings and frozen yogurt, lots of frozen yogurt. A few things I’ve learned along the way:
- The traffic is absolutely as bad as everyone tells you. You’ll be like me– kinda dubious, a non-believer, you’ll say everyone exaggerates, you’ll figure “How bad can it really get?” And I will tell you “bad.” The traffic can get really bad. Sitting on the same highway behind the same car for two hours bad.
- When stuck in said traffic, it is almost impossible not to check your email, send a text message or (as I’ve started doing, and I’m simply teasing the gods, toying with my fate, being really stupid) reading a book underneath the steering wheel.
- Los Angeles might not have the restaurants of New York (not yet anyway, though I hear it’s being worked on), but it might still be a city where food lovers come to die. Shrimp tacos, Korean BBQ, fried sushi, kale and strawberry salad, bread pudding muffins, pesto cheese, fried bananas and ice cream, even the movie theater popcorn is amazing. I came out here to get into movies and all that might happen is me turning into a prime number one fatty.
- I need to be more patient. That east coast way (and specifically New York) where everything moves really fast and you don’t have to wait in line longer than nineteen seconds and an impatient foot tap lets everyone around you know it’s time to hurry up? Doesn’t work out here. Time to breathe, relax, and ask myself why I’m in such a hurry anyway.
- Your first view of the ocean from the Pacific Coast Highway might lodge itself into your memory bank forever and ever and ever. I drove along the PCH on Friday early evening and I was rounding a bend just as the traffic (see?) broke and the water was on my left and my windows were down and the warm air filled my car and the ocean was bigger than America and the coastline was winding up into the sky and it gave me goosebumps.
Today is Day 3 in Lala Land and I might as well be in Togo, it feels so very different. Traveling is something I yearn to do, but it does fill me with a weird mix of anxiety and dread. Even when I’m in places that shouldn’t feel so culturally dissimilar (same language, driving on the same side of the road, same crappy pop music on the radio), I have an apprehension that makes the simplest tasks seem impossible. I was so distracted last night, I drove three miles down Santa Monica Blvd with my lights off (I almost caused a frigging accident, and just like a New Yorker, I cursed and hollered at the other car. And when I got home and realized that I had been driving with my lights off, I was filled with so much shame, I could do nothing but sit in my car and gulp). I couldn’t figure out how to operate the parking ticket machine at the Target on La Brea and I damn near cried punching at buttons and trying to find the right change.
My nerves are a little shot. My synapses won’t cooperate.
But I guess this is what it means to go beyond your home for a while. You step out of your known world, and all of sudden every moment feel important, there is a sharpness to your awareness that might be difficult to find in your normal life. As harried as I feel, I have paid attention to every gesture, every sign, every tree, every smile I have come across. And for each hiccup, there’s been something so lovely to counter it. Sushi and beer with Bridget on my first night, a trip to the Grove and a drive through Hancock Park with Lynn, a late-night visit to Canter’s for matzoh ball soup and a potato knish, and later I’m heading to Skylight Books.
Today I’m spending the afternoon in the Beverly Hills library and there is a woman a few feet away who is laughing, roaring actually, at something on the rented computer she is using. The security guard has told her to hush up, other readers have sssshed her, and you can see that she is trying to be quiet. But every few minutes, she watches something that makes her yelp and snort into her hands as she tries to suppress a laugh. She appears to be living on top of all of her energy right now, perfectly keyed in to whatever she’s watching and how happy it makes her. She’ll probably get tossed out of here in the next ten minutes, but maybe it will have been worth it. That’s what I hope to get out of this trip– moments when the joy and excitement trump the fear of what might, maybe, could possibly happen. Even if some city officials in a patrol car pull up alongside my rented sky-blue Hyundai, yank me from my seat, call me a interloper and discharge me back to Brooklyn, I’ll have had my rainy evening alone at Canter’s, eating my knish, sipping my root beer, doing the crossword puzzle, unsure which direction I should drive in to head home.
Last summer I had about four dollars in my bank account, so I planned on spending my summer tethered to the sticky city. But yay of all yays, playwright Jordan Seavey asked me to participate in a workshop of his lovely, beautiful, heartbreaking new play “Listening for our Murderer” with New York Theater Workshop in Hanover, New Hampshire.