come on, mom, it's l.a.!


we drove down highway 1 to los angeles, while listening to this american life. i finally heard the dishwasher pete story, "letterman! cookies!" as well as stories by david sedaris and sarah vowell. i thought that i wouldn't like hearing stories, especially on the road, but i was wrong. i liked them. i liked them a lot.

i had forgotten how winding highway 1 is, but also how scenic it is, and how there should be no other road but that one. the fog rolled in, and it partially blocked our view at certain points, but when i could see the ocean, it was otherworldly. i couldn't understand why more people hadn't built homes along the coast. why everyone had chosen to live in big suburban communities in the stifling hot valley was beyond me. but maybe it's better that way. maybe if you lived by the ocean all the time, you would tire of it. and when one tires of something as majestic as the pacific, there's really nothing left for him.

we stopped off at pismo beach. i had never been there before. the streets were bustling, and everyone was excited and ready to explore. being in sacramento for a year, i had forgotten how there are still parts of the world that are alive, undulating with lost tourists and ice-cream eating children and teenage punks looking for trouble. a skateboarder turned the corner and almost mowed us down. an older man shook his head in disappointment at the amateur. "learn to skate better," he warned.

in los angeles, we stayed at the banana bungalow, a hostel in west hollywood. it wasn't as nice as the pictures on the website, but our private room was cool, and there were plenty of foreign hipsters inhabiting the dorms around us. a young woman named clara checked us in. "are you on holiday?" she asked. meagan said, "yes." i said nothing. i'm on kind of an indefinite holiday.

we explored the santa monica pier on the first night, the same night the lakers lost game six, and boston won the championship. it seemed that the game was playing on every television set. people looked disappointed. "what's the score?" i asked two boys talking on their patio. "they're down by twenty, twenty-five," one said. "it's not looking good." meagan's former co-worker and americorps volunteer, hannah, met us on the 3rd street promenade. she hugged me, though i met her only once before. we walked and talked. at the edge of the santa monica pier, some mexicans were fishing. to my surprise, there was a stingray flopping around on the floorboards. the mexican fisherman kicked him back into the pacific, and then he made the sign of the cross. i couldn't believe it. "who catches a stingray?" i asked, to no one in particular. moments later, his friend caught a giant crab. they put the crab in a bucket.

the three of us walked down the beach, and hannah warned us that venice was up ahead, and that we didn't want to be in venice after dark. we walked back the other way. "what are you going to do?" hannah asked me. it caught me off guard. there was obviously nothing i could say that would measure up to what everyone else was doing. meagan is getting her master's in library and information science. hannah just earned acceptance to harvard and she will receive her master's in education. hannah's boyfriend just completed his second year of law school. i couldn't even come up with a decent lie to remain competitive. "umm. i might go for my social work degree," i said. she hesitated for a moment, then stated rather bluntly, "i hope you guys are buying lottery tickets!"

it was a scathing remark. i could tell meagan was offended. to stay calm, i thought of a section from the working poor, in which a poor black woman stated, "it's not about how much money you make. it's about how you spend it." of course, i didn't say this aloud. the curse of my life is that i continually live out the scene in amelie, the scene where she has a great comeback for colignon, the cruel merchant, after he ridicules his slightly retarded clerk by saying, "somebody must have peed in his mother!" from the sewers, a man tells amelie to say, "you could never be a vegetable because even artichokes have hearts!" that's me. i am the sewer man.

in santa cruz the day before, meagan, rachel and i went to go see the movie sex & the city. i was never a big fan of the show, but i had somehow seen every episode. when we returned to rachel's apartment, rachel declared what we had done. she said, "james was a trooper." "jeez, man," nate said, "do you need a shot of testosterone?" nate, i wanted to say, don't be such a stereotype.

nate played world of warcraft, while i tried to sleep on their uncomfortable couch. it was a pullout couch, but rachel warned me about pulling out the bed. "i think somebody had sex on it," she said. nate and i watched an episode of south park. in the episode, the four boys turned into ninjas, and somebody threw a ninja star in butters' eye. i have to admit, i still don't get why south park is supposed to be funny.

in los angeles, we visited the fashion district, the fashion institute of design and merchandising, the getty center, and the observatory in griffith park. a little shop called built by wendy sold guitar straps for $40 - $50. that's how wendy got her business started. in santa monica, these tall white boys bumped their fists together and said, "l.a.!" but it was in a ghetto rap kind of way: "ell ayy." i came up with little ditties that went along with the melody to the song "why you'd want to live here," such as: "i'm in los angeles today, i bought a chicken sandwich and it wasn't very tasty, though it certainly was filling." and "i'm in los angeles today, meagan bought a pair of purple sunglasses, and they only cost her five dollars."

we went to the zoo in san diego. on monkey trail, meagan remarked, "maybe we're the savages." certainly, looking at most people wandering around the zoo, i had to wonder who actually belonged in those cages. one man threw a peanut shell at a lynx who was resting in the shaded corner of her cage. his wife and son shot him a horrified look, as did we. "what?" he said, "it's alright. i'm not feeding him!" one young woman randomly grabbed at a possibly endangered plant and pulled away its leaf. the saddest sight, though, was that of an older man talking to his distant mother in the line to see the giant pandas. this is how the scene played out:

imagine a short, stocky man with thinning hair and a bright red face. his hair is slicked back with gel, and his red scalp is perfectly visible. he has on a large yellow polo shirt tucked into green shorts, and the shorts are raised slightly higher than his waist line. he's got his digital camera hanging from his neck, and he's trying to talk to his mother, standing next to him.

"you know, i might be going to dublin, ohio, on a business trip soon, and guess what they've got there?" the mother says nothing. she is looking at the map of the zoo. "they've got the world's largest christmas store. in the world!" the mother doesn't even nod her head. she is completely ignoring him. "i heard that you can buy just about any christmas ornament there." silence. suddenly, a tour bus rolls by. some children wave at us in the line. the fat man waves back. the mother notices, and finally she speaks: "did you know that person?" "no," he says. "they were just waving, so i waved back." a young man in front of the man and his mother turns around and smiles. the fat man sees this as an invitation to speak. "you know, i was in vancouver once, and there were these teenagers that were waving from the back of a ferry. i waved back to them, and they were really excited! you never know, sometimes people will be waving for like, four hours, and nobody ever waves back."

suddenly, i realize that this truly is the most boring man in the world. the whole thing reminds me of a seinfeld episode, george and susan sitting in the coffee shop with absolutely nothing to say to each other. i turn to meagan and i quote the moment george finally breaks the silence. "i broke a shoelace today."

maybe i have already become this boring man. i am over being ordinary. i have fully accepted that i will be ordinary, and there is no stopping that. but to be boring on top of ordinary. what a tragedy. i don't want to tell stories that lead nowhere. i don't want to waste people's time with pointless observations.

maybe i'll just wave and wave with the hope that eventually, someone will wave back.

2 comments:

Tiffany said...

an inspired entry.

Naomi said...

James, you couldn't be ordianry or boring if you tried.
And you write these entertaining, insightful blogs, when my life - with the job, kid on the way, acceptance to grad school - has nothing to say or even to report.