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Dispatches from Lalaland (Part III)
Strangers in Glendale
Part I: Airplane: From Iceland to America; or, Being Tossed into the Basin
Part II: Uber Ride: Riding with Jesus
Welcome to the flickering streetlight gloom of Glendale.
How can the voids of a suburban street be so dark and its street lamps so bright? It makes you feel less safe somehow, as if the lamps are compensating for something. Your friend from college, Topher, kindly offered you his spare bedroom for the night. It’s been years since you’ve seen him, but it’s after midnight and surely, he’s fast asleep.
On the Santa Anna winds, an uncanny odor. A siren up in the hills. You approach Topher’s address, a nondescript condominium which resembles most of the condominiums you’ve seen on the opposite side of the country.
As you climb up the staircase, an unplaceable melancholy floats through your nostrils and up into your brain. Have you forgotten something, or is it the sense that something’s missing? It’s probably just the smell of urine coming from a nearby alleyway. Even though you haven’t arrived yet, you miss home already. Home is an idea that exists somewhere in the future—nine hours ahead, to be precise, in Paris—where people don’t say “I miss you” but rather “you are missing from me.”
You put down your bags on the landing
and double-check Topher’s voice-text message about how to enter the generic structure you hope is indeed his house.
“If it’s after midnight just walk in, the door’s unlocked. We’ll catch up in the morning. Just make sure you don’t walk into—”
The sound of a beeping car in the recording overpowers Topher’s voice. “Dammit, Lauren! Sorry about that, one second. Lauren, can you please—” his voice fades away. “Sorry, dude. Okay, after the blue parking lot you go up the first flight of stairs … we’re in apartment three [either B or D]—”
You replay the message but the distinction between Topher’s “Dee” or “Bee” is unclear. You turn up the volume and hold the phone to your ear but still no luck. You’re in front of 3D now, and the door handle is loose, and Topher said you could just walk in, so you enter.
There’s a light on in the front hall,
a living room to your right, and a paper-thin door to your left, slightly cracked. You drop your bags on the floor and take off your shoes. Your father, with whom you’ll be reuniting in Pasadena tomorrow, swears by leaving the shoes at the door: “It’s not just for cleanliness,” he once explained to you, “but to honor the transition into the sanctity of home.”
You balance on one leg to remove each shoe and sock and you can feel the hours of sitting in an airplane in your aching buttocks. The journey reads like a word problem: how long does a human body take to transition after a 16-hour journey from Paris to L.A. via Iceland?
Too long, is the answer. Maybe never.
You carry your bags into what should be the guest room, according to Topher’s voice note; you’re startled to find a grown man curled up in the makeshift bed. His back is facing you. This man isn’t Topher. The stranger in the bed has fat ankles and a thick torso and a hairy back with matted hair; your memory of Topher is of a lithe soccer player with varicose veins in his arms and long muscular legs and a chiselled face that could belong to one of those car accident lawyers or white-toothed preachers you only ever see on interstate billboards.
You retreat to the living room and sit down on the sofa and consider the possibility that you could be in the wrong apartment. This is when you notice, at the end of the sofa, a bed pillow stacked on top of a fuzzy blanket and a white bedsheet that looks like it was folded by a twentysomething male. Exhausted, you make your bed and stretch out, dangling your feet off the arm-rest to get properly comfortable.
You keep your clothes on, just in case you need to leave quickly.
That night, you dream of a muscular androgynous Nordic man
with Barbie-blonde hair who greets you on a snow-covered suburban street. He invites you into his home for a party. The house is a triangle, flanked by mounds of snow that have slid off either side.
There’s nothing to see when you walk into the Nordic man’s home, just another door frame leading inwards. The Nordic Man takes your hand. “Come join me in the beyond.” He leads you down a steep stairwell and into a subterranean lounge filled with large foam blocks that look like Legos for giants.
The Nordic Man picks up a foam block and throws it to the side, clearing a path to yet another portal.
“Have you ever tasted dinosaur bones?” he asks.
He promptly punches you in the face, apologizes, and drops to his knees to lick the bare skin in between your toes.
Somewhere out there in the beyond,
car horns are blaring . Glendale is quiet no more.
You wake up from the dream just as the California sun begins to blaze through the ozone hole, cascading into the apartment from the open front door.
A wheezing bulldog is lapping at the crevices in between your naked toes with its floppy tongue. Topher didn’t say anything about having a dog—at least he’s cute.
“Good boy,” you pat the dog’s head before it jumps onto the couch to lick your face, which is when you realize the dog has a vagina.
“Good girl,” you correct yourself, as if she cares. You sit up and keep scratching the top of the dog’s head until she’s settled onto your stomach like a hot water bottle.
The dog breathes loudly through her nose. You speak to her as if she could understand you once again. “Where’d you come from? Is Topher your dad?”
“Good morning!” Topher slides into the living room with socked feet; he rushes to close the front door. “It’s fine. It looks like they’re gone for good. How did you sleep?”
You stand up bleary eyed to give Topher a hug. You peer into the small guest room, now empty. “Was that your roommate?”
“Ha, good one,” Topher laughs.
“Forget about her. How the hell are you, man?”
“Fine. Everything’s just fine. Thanks for the bedsheet.”
“Do you always sleep in your clothes?”
“No. I wasn’t sure if—well it doesn’t matter. Should we eat?”
“Oh yeah … about that. I just got this text from this producer who is a pretty big deal. She wants to talk about my treatment. It’s the only time she can do it …”
“Oh, that’s okay. Can you take the call at the diner?”
“She’s one of these people who refuses to talk on the phone. She lives in Studio City. My Uber’s coming in ten minutes. I’m sorry, man. Rain check?”
“Oh. Yeah, of course. No problem. And congratulations.”
“This producer meeting.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, it’s an audition, actually.”
“It’s not about your script?”
“It’s both, actually. Actor and/or director for a toothpaste commercial. It’d be huge for me, actually. Funny how life works.”
“Yeah, sure, I get it.”
“Thanks, man. It’s good to see you. And make yourself at home. There’s some cold brew and a breakfast drink in the fridge.”
“How far is Pasadena from here?”
“Not far. A fifteen-minute Uber or a thirty-minute train ride. But if you can just stay here for like, another hour? Lauren is going to pick up a few things and then she can lock up behind you. Sorry, man. No spare key. Welcome to L.A!”
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