When I go to this place I get lost in memories, images, sounds, smells, bacon-wrapped hot dogs vendors outside clubs grill atop foil-covered carts, nestled among onions and peppers, Canadian whiskey a coworker, a mother of two, drank, Irish whiskey I drank, exhaust from my car, a ’94 white BMW with a salvage title that had many more miles on it, a much longer, more complicated history than I knew, which I only found out when I had to sell it just before I left…Most of all, I can see the dirt, the palm trees, the branches, still green, and those that fell to the ground, brown and brittle, or the view from the hill where I practiced yoga, pink flowers in a dark green bush at the far edge, or the blue sky through power lines, clear in winter, when it was still 70 degrees at midday, the dog shit in the neighbors’ yard, where, some nights, I’d sit on a soggy cushion on a metal wire chair and turn on the Christmas lights and smoke a bummed cigarette and drink a beer in the dark just before dawn when the air was cool, maybe the sound of crickets, or someone snoring from an open bedroom window, or the hum of an air conditioner or some bird that had risen early, chirping, which I hated, because I’d just gotten home from work and that bird signaled morning coming.
This is a story about getting lost, about being on an edge and constantly on the verge of getting pushed over it, or driving oneself over it, going too far with some delusional hope the results will be different even though they’re programmed to be the same as they were the last time. It’s a story about ignoring warning signs, barreling past them into the jaws of destruction again and again, driven in part by self-destructive impulses of unknown origin. It’s a story of desperation, fear of the passage of time, aging, rotting, fear of uncertainty itself, of not knowing the destination, and reacting to that fear, trying to anchor and orient oneself in routine and ritual. It’s a story of trial, error, testing, of getting through the night again and again, of highs and lows and constant good weather and easy living that mutes the screaming panic in my mind like a drug that mellows me out ‘til the next panic hits. It’s also a story of rage, pushing against walls, antagonists, and donning a guise to get through it, riding to an unknown destination and getting out. It’s a story of recklessness, driven by adrenaline, rage, whiskey, jumping over the bar, shoving my way through a violent mass of wasted bodies, tracking down a guy who slipped away without paying for his sangria.
Disillusionment is inevitable. You arrive, and the sense is, I’m here, what’s next? Bartending and acting going hand in hand – people refer to the nightlife industry as “the industry” and to the entertainment industry as “the industry” as though “industry” needs no modifier to specify which one they’re referring to. Somewhere along the way you compromise your pure heart. You just have to act – impulse – in those early stages of training, the brain is your enemy because it’ll get in your way – just do, don’t think. Going out and coming back – the notion of traveling to a frontier – and yet I never saw it as failure, just a part of the journey, and now it pulls me back – some people say it’s empty, and I felt this, too, but I think it’s driven by a different kind of energy – something to do with the yoga, the produce, the avocados, meditation – from seeking an antidote to the night life, yet in LA this contradiction is everywhere, healthy life in the light and the inevitable return to dark. This is true in other places, too, of course, but in LA the emphasis on natural, clean living, eating, working out, which translates into toned, tanned bodies which feeds into the shallowness and artificiality and toxicity people often associate with its darker side – it all circles back to itself. I moved to LA with the intention of becoming a working actor but more than a passion, it was a goal I set for myself, a challenge, something to master, something I pursued doggedly well past the point of realizing the struggle wouldn’t fulfill me. Writing, not acting, is my disease, it’s what I do compulsively, and without hesitation I tell people, “I write,” whereas, in LA, when people asked me what I did, I told them, “I bartend,” because I felt a greater sense of dignity in identifying myself this way, a trade I’d mastered, a field in which I’d attained a high degree of professional competence, in which I’d supported myself for nearly a decade…Fear of working the worst shifts drove me to work with ferocious speed because I wanted no one to usurp my position as top seller…Even if I embedded in a dark underworld, it was this desire, and the consuming fear, that drove me to master the craft. That dark part of my life is not isolated – it’s still raw – fear of sinking to the bottom in this place inhabited by bottom feeders, driven by obsession, whether that of a teenage basketball junkie dreaming of making it to the NBA, I cared little for money or fame, just wanted to play in the League, to master the game, and this carried through, to Columbia, and to bartending, and I don’t think it’ll go away…always felt like an outsider, in high school, on the basketball court, behind the bar, in West Hollywood, in downtown LA, kind of like a journalist, there, taking it in, but not one of them.