No Way Out

Drawing by Michael Shapiro
Drawing by Michael Shapiro

Going on a journey, driven by fear, obsession, lack of clarity…times when all of your thoughts are misgiving…looking out the window, at dawn, looking to the west, through the palm tree leaves…wanting to get out of LA, out of the night life…to whom do those voices belong? You stood long…Is the laughter positive or sinister? A necessary process ends with a primal scream.

I only exercised using my own body weight, to stay limber, which would allow me to move at maximum speed and efficiency behind the bar…running from the terror of waking up again and again in a sunny place and not knowing where the journey will end and always staving off dread that lurks on the outskirts of daily rituals that could go on for perpetuity and lead to nowhere – the demons and the antidotal ritual reinforce each other…Dried out, brown palm tree leaves, branches, sticks…I got to my car, opened the trunk, tossed the yoga mat back inside, got in, rolled down the windows…air conditioner never worked well…the first hint of light from the East took me to Astoria, Queens, the bottling plant and the dirty Punjab restaurants on 21st Street, and to the West, the palm trees, empty rooftops, promise a future freed from bartending, half-hallucinatory ruminations from a near-delirious state of tired.

I slip back into the dark, the debauchery, corruption, tainted, poisoned side of LA, moments of empty ecstasy to forget that the day would return, the sun would rise again and shine a painfully bright light on side of life I’d just escaped…light, thin doors, everything is ephemeral, halfway there, permeable, see-through, translucent…that which is dirty and broken and cracked alternates with images of purity, the organic – dirty garbage can, broken drawers and pots and pans and cooking tools, pure fruit, dirty kettle, fresh-ground coffee beans…regularity and predictability I clung to and fled from…pattern – I couldn’t deny it felt like some kind of paradise, and that’s where it loops back around to the dread – ebb and flow, caught in the middle, trapped – when something becomes too comfortable, a place of no seasons, a sense that nothing changes, although of course it does, but the continuity of it, and the seeming lack of struggle, although of course there’s struggle of every kind, all over the fragmented neighborhoods, crime, violence, shootings, brutality, drugs and alcohol and unctuous shadiness, I’m not saying this doesn’t exist, and in West Hollywood, too, but the struggle, there, is subtle in the sense that every day can feel like a vacation, and this is confusing now because then one might ask, then why would you ever leave? But how long until you go crazy? And if every day is punctuated by night time bar mayhem, which also never changes, is a cycle, repeats itself, and that debauchery, from the dark, alternates, like a checkerboard, with the detoxifying daytime rituals, you ask, how do I ever get out of this, because even the escape I seek in the daylight inevitably, it all dissolves into the dark, which is inescapable if one’s line of work is in the dark, a part of the nightlife machine, driving it. So it feels like there is no way out, just a back and forth, one extreme to the other every day and night, craving release, falling into the same trap every time I step behind the bar, seeing no end, seeing only frustrated, if positive, hopeful, but struggling, stuck in the same weeds, people around me, and others who’ve no desire to get out, and being caught in that, feeling that escape is impossible without some drastic change or action, is maddening.

I know what I want to say and I can’t spit it out, as though an avocado hangs heavy on a branch, beyond ready to fall…long afternoon shadows and setting sun’s light on concrete and brick walls…to early evenings before nightfall sent me clattering down creaky wooden steps, into the dark, white BMW, down Melrose and La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevard…‘til I crashed and found I had nowhere to go but away from there…cherries, avocados, bananas, almonds and dark chocolate, hellish summers of bartending, golden afternoon light…a brick of oily cheddar and potatoes in my stomach, wait for a call from my mechanic, who never called…This place of never-ending light will destroy you…downtown LA, summer weeknight, get off early, back to Melrose, running in the night…obsession taking hold, stretching on the floor, empty stomach, LA images, LA routine, and, again, torn denim, mundane image, object, loving someone ‘til the end of time, this pulls you back, a sick part of you wants to go back to it, the easy life, easy money, thinly veiled, selling yourself and the product, smiling, pained stomach, acid, grimace, fuck it, work it, don’t stop, get it, for the thrill of it…Disorder, I knew it was getting out of hand, a kind of bargain with the lifestyle, headed toward no good end, to an ever-darker territory, and I wasn’t the one driving anymore, yet, still, didn’t want to wake up…Diamond Bar, Calif., green, hills stretching, flat, hinterlands, on and on…As a boat in an ocean, no shore in sight, no anchor, bobbing in the current…doing it over and over until they crack, and instead of heeding the warnings, they go back to it and do it again…nowhere, somewhere, here, in a twilight zone or a dream, not a good dream and not a nightmare – a kind of limbo. Violence, drugs, drinking to excess, exploitation, murder – and much of it is stunningly beautiful – the PCH, the dark birds that perch on the thin steel bars that hold up the giant letters of the Hollywood sign, easy to take a wrong turn, keep ascending, and then you’re behind the sign, way above Los Angeles, looking down, or downtown LA at dusk, a pink and purple horizon, tinted from the smog, made beautiful by what’s toxic.