Purge

purge

I sit here now at this desk as I did July 5, the start of the week, looking out the same window, and it truly feels like fall now, the cooler air, the bright, cool mornings, that summer heat all but gone and it takes me back to LA, a different kind of brighter, cooler fall mornings and shorter days, crispness in the air, and the sight of that fall produce on the counter, that counter that two years ago in a house on North Kilkea Drive in the sobering fall months filled with drunk nights, the Black Keys concert, Oktoberfest, and others – but the process, my path, I’d begun, and now it’s fall again, and I see that cornucopia on the counter, that bowl of apples, bananas, avocados, lemons, limes, not exactly all symbols of autumn other than the apples, but the apples themselves signal it’s fall…everything, natural and plant-based. Figs are already done, all hopes of copping a basket of green ones gone…just before October, the air cooling, sunny mornings, exposed nerves, stubbornness, dread, compulsive need to earn money, fear of the proverbial “open road” – life outside of the bar – outside of those nightclub walls and in love with the life inside them…an LA love story…the corrosive nature of the lifestyle, grinding in a dark paradise, and it never lets me rest, and now, still, after I think I’ve left it behind, it still comes to me in dreams, the same nightmares of working behind a bar a mile wide…start looking forward and stop looking to the past, a voice tells me, echoing what I’ve heard other people say to other people…Grungy commuters sitting on stoops and standing on the boulevard waiting for the bus, a downtown LA Skid Row-type scene a place not far from where I worked…Addicted to this story as I’ve become to the point that even as fellowship deadlines loom, I need to keep working on this LA bartending love story, need to work on the postscript – I’ve no choice – it’s become an obsession…And as I type this out it’s as though I’m no longer writing this, as though, to my horror, the story has taken on a life of it’s own and I’ve no control over it, or as though it’s guiding me and unfolding without my dictating its path…Falling off the rails and I need someone to put me back on. And if I step back and look at what I’m doing I panic but if I do it and don’t think about it…

And I could go on forever but before I leave I think I need to stress, once again, that I don’t hate LA or hold anything against it and I wonder if this makes me sound like a hypocrite after all I’ve railed against the night life but I think I’ve made clear that it wasn’t LA itself I’ve anything against but, rather, I’m writing to a particular experience I had there while working for several years as a club bartender in a variety of bars and clubs and I can only speak for myself and the way in which this experience and what I saw and heard through it continues to haunt me. And if I had to choose between LA and New York – although I hope I don’t, I hope I can be free to roam – I’d choose LA because along with the nightlife darkness I referred to again and again and the sense of dread I said I so often woke up to during that time, I also experienced the light, in a literal and figurative sense, the yoga, meditation, good food and warm, laid-back vibe – all of that is real, and it worked for me. But to say the light was enough to sustain me or stave off dread from the dark wouldn’t be truthful because then I wouldn’t need to write this story. And now at the end of September coming to the end of the fellowship as I draft this postscript, I feel similar to how I felt when I wrote the postscript for my masters project…but for this story I’ve cut myself open and let come out what may, or at least this is what I’ve tried to do, and Michael and Mike and Cissi and Anna helped me get there…as though after six months of working on it, the reporting, the story, had just begun, had just started to take shape, as though I knew so little, as though I’d just scratched the surface and, now, still, every time I open an old notebook from those LA days and nights, a flood of memories descends on me, ambush me, and still, after four months of working on this, I feel as though I’ve just started, and now, truly, finally, feel that I need to report it out, if I want to tell it properly, do it justice, there are people I need to talk to, questions I must ask, about my past, their past, our past, and I’ve no regrets because I needed to do, to focus on, this writing, to get here – I needed to write this out, to figure out what I would need to ask and who I’d need to talk to. Maybe this is part of what I was running from and hiding from behind words and language – the recognition and realization on a gut level that if I am going to write this, I need to go back there. This can’t go further unless I go back there. Of course, time moves on, I’ve moved on, I survived and escaped the physical place that is LA, which, as I said, doesn’t mean I won’t or don’t want to go back there…and maybe I was enamored of a life of grimacing and 7-Eleven coffee and protein cookies for supper, bought seven at a time and stacked them in a cabinet to grab in a rush, and a guy waiting with a bottle of tequila and a large can of Red Bull laughed and I told him, Man, they work, because they sat like a lump in the stomach, a substitute for sustenance when it comes, mainly, from whiskey with a Fernet chaser…Can’t let go, can’t excise or exorcise or erase that time, what it did to me, what I did, what I lived, who I became, who it turned me into…found it and left it, apprehensive about what the future may hold, thoughts misgiving, and of continuing to work on the postscript next week and beyond…pour coffee, routine, and then I remember a line from a math graduate student TA in a calculus help room at Columbia working with a student to solve a problem, which required several steps, and he told him, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”…But the question that still haunts me now is, Have I broken up with LA, and the answer is, I’m not sure that I have or whether I ever will…“There was nothing else. Why would you leave?”…And in part I question whether I’m done, whether I could possibly be done, at this point or whether I need, to borrow Cissi’s words, a couple of decades of perspective, loss and wisdom before I can write this…you could’ve slipped into something bad, dangerous or risky because you were heedless for just one moment and then you can’t get out of it because you could lose your mind. No, not lose your mind, but because you don’t want to change it…And certain moments living that life you feel you’re at the center of something magical, that is nothing but a drop on the metaphorical rollercoaster, the rush you wait for after the last one, that, over time, becomes routine and loses the power it once held over you, and you hold on, white-knuckle grip, and scream as though screaming for your life, and knowing it’s all a kind of purge.