The other morning I did something a bit crazy, something that would cause the men in my life to go quaking in their boots. I swung by an unfamiliar house and invited a gangster into the passenger seat of my old, white Mercedes. He was 3 days away from 5 years in prison for chucking a loaded shotgun from a car in plain view of police. This charge was compounded by several others, like attempted murder. He once beat an aspiring rapist off his property with a bat, knocking him away from the sleeping women inside. Baseball bats. Over the course of our dawn hangout, I gleaned that Eastside gangsters love them, unregistered shotguns, and knives.
This all began a few months ago. I was walking Van on our usual route in Glassell Park, a Habitat latte in my hand and a book tucked beneath my arm. Almost directly beside me, a tatted and shaved boy kept pace, eyes shifting anxiously from side to side. Oprah’s after-school specials ran through my head and I remembered: If a man is following you, make eye contact. He’ll know you could identify him in a line-up. Ask him the time. I opted for, “Why you walkin’ so close to me?”
He looked stunned by my acknowledgement. It seemed I was hardly on his radar but for one reason. Nervously, “I-I’m sorry. The police just fuck wit me. I figured if I was walking with a white girl I’d be cool.”
“Oh. Why? ‘Cause you jaywalked?” I’d seen him do it.
He laughed, “Nah. I wish. Nah. They’re always fuckin’ with me. Always. You know where you’re at? You know Drew street?” The answer was yes but vaguely. I’d always been intrigued by the gang activity 2 blocks from my quaint, cabin apartment. I’d drain coffee into colorful mugs, settle beside my majestic rubber tree on the porch, sliding door wide open, listening to what is forever a debate between firecrackers and gunshots. Mariachi music and hip hop and laughter would pour across the grassy lot beyond my place and I’d imagine how differently my life would be on Drew. Cursory research deemed its Avenues the most violent gang in LA. They began in the 1940s, killed a sheriff in the 90s and got subsequently arrested and royally screwed in police retaliation. During raids, Chris said the dogs get shot first. “Like 30 dogs last time.” That incident, he’d laid on top of his beloved chow, saving the pup from cop bullets.
“If hipsters knew that shit, they’d be outraged,” I laughed.
“Fuck hipsters. I hate them.”
“You hate me.”
Regarding my comment with a smile, “I do hate you. But not you.” All the while, I’ve parked the car and we’re carrying Blue Moons beneath a bridge in Pasadena, Chris leading the way,. The sky was a rich sapphire, our dirt path to the unknowable below washed with street lamps. 4:45AM.
“I really hope you won’t kill me.”
He laughed. “You know what would happen to me if I killed a white girl?”
“National news. 20/20.”
“The big L.” Life in prison. His dad was already serving 396 years for quadruple homicide. Described as an ultra violent, 5’4” bulldog, the man was at last locked up for plowing 2 women down as they exited a Bible study. His father was drunk as a skunk and I couldn’t help but imagine the scene, almost too cliche for a movie, God fearing women exchanging blessings before meeting their very maker. Which brought us to the conversation of whose life is valuable and whose is not. We each climbed onto the bottom ledge of the concrete bridge and gazed to the reservoir below. “When we kill each other, to cops, it’s just scum taking out scum. Like we’re doin’ them a favor.” It’s true. I’m used to white babies on milk cartons, missing blonde joggers on the evening news and a crude sense of “us and them”, separately residing in metropolitan cities. The suburbs were “us”. The ghettos were “them”. I’ve had dark experiences with perverse men, owners of windowless vans, but I’ve never been taken. His cousin however, just 3 months prior, was kidnapped while buying her baby’s medicine at the CVS. Three men raped and tortured her to death in a van. They dumped her body in a nearby elementary school parking lot very close to my home. I wondered if my skin had kept me safe all these years. Considering I hadn’t even heard of this horrific tragedy, was the price of my murder notoriously steeper than hers? “After we killed that sheriff, they passed a law. A whole hood can be convicted for one murder.” It’s Atwater vs. Eagle Rock vs. Highland Park and on and on, streets mere miles apart. “Where you from, homie?” and it’s multiple holes to the head.
“It’s so stupid,” I said, twisting my brows into a frenzy, sad these young boys are dying for nothing.
But, “It’s not. It’s not stupid.” He wasn’t offended but his words carried conviction. For gangsters, there’s a constant evening of the score. “We took shrooms right here.” Chris smiled, a memory dancing across his face. He was talking about his childhood best friend, the one whose murder sent Chris’ life into a never-ending tale of revenge. “We couldn’t even get around that tree. For hours, we couldn’t,” he reminisced. In a psychedelic haze, a coupla teenagers perceived the nearby tree an unwavering barrier to where he and I now sat. “And then, these Mexican kids were all pulling out guns like, ‘Where you from? Where you rep?’ And we just laughed our asses off ’til they left.” Chris rubbed his shaved head and sighed. The weight of his impending sentence was crushing his spirit. He’d already sent me the news article explaining what he’d done. He’d already promised, with a proud glimmer in his eye, that his street name strikes fear into rival hearts. He only fucks with gangsters. There’s no rape, no killing of the “innocent”.
“Did you have to get used to being violent?”
“I was born violent.”
Chewing my cheek, considering basic psychology, “Did you see your dad get crazy? When you were little?”
“Hah. He beat the shit out of me once. Doesn’t even remember. I was 5 or 6, at the movies. Asked him if I could go to the bathroom. He took me there and beat the shit out of me. No reason.” He grinned but my stomach sank. I hate that boys go hard because they have to. I’ve pressed the sweet cheeks of kids that age, discovering boys more tenderhearted than the girls, strong emotions quivering their little lips. “I’ll give you something to cry about,” their daddies say, hoping their grit will shield them from the cruel world, turning them into cruel creatures themselves.
His dad in prison, Chris’ gang banging began at 13 when he dropped out of school to help his mom pay the bills. His talent for tagging caught the affection of the Avenues and he was soon thrust into a car, a bag of meth passed over, a demand he turn crystal into cash. Even then, he had no personal vendetta until his best friend was shot 7 times in the face right before his eyes, aged 21. “Cops had to pry me off his body. I was holding his head together but his face just disintegrated in my hands. It fell apart.” I took a mighty chug of beer, feeling helpless. This took place in a parking lot I walk by nearly every day. “Later, I went back to pick up the pieces of his skull and teeth. They left them there.” He didn’t admit to killing anyone but he’s got zero regard for another gangster. He’s got no problem watching somebody die and especially not with watching somebody else’s friend in agony. Shared pain releases him from his own, if only for a second. And the revenge goes back and forth forever.
Until this point, our eye contact had been infrequent. He and I were nervous for different reasons. We had almost nothing in common but for being human. In 3 days, I’d be in Paris and he’d be in prison. It wasn’t fair but we lived out our birthrights. We kicked our legs beyond the concrete, mine in jeans and dirty Chucks, his in bleach white socks, slides, and extra long navy Dickies. We wore the uniform of our respective cliches. He resents gentrification, I embraced it without apology. He’s got 3 baby mamas and 5 kids, I’m childless. “You ever heard of pulling out?” He laughed.
“Yeah, yeah I’ve heard. I know better now.” Chris takes another swig from the bottle before glaring at the label. “I don’t even drink anymore. I thought it would help me forget.”
“Where you’re going?”
Obviously, I couldn’t imagine. He explained that in prison you forget your hood and find your race. He thinks processing will be the worst of it. An overpacked room stacked with sweaty, stinking criminals defending their lives and starting fights for 3 whole days. “Are you worried they’re gonna fuck you up?”
“I know they are.” But he’s used to pain. An ex-girlfriend ripped his eyeball out while clawing his face. She laughed maniacally while the paramedics popped it back in. Later, Chris shyly apologized for his dead tooth, front and center. “This guy tried to pistol whip me to death. My face was so fucked up the cops came and took pictures on their phones. They were like, ‘Wassup with your skull passion? Wassup?”
“It’s like, it’s a girl that wants to fuck you. It’s an Avenues thing.” The cops were teasing him, mocking that he’d never get laid again with a face like that.
By this time, around 6:30AM, the sun had risen but barely kissed us with its presence. Perhaps we were too glum to have noticed. Elderly Pasadena couples walked by with their golden retrievers and I wondered if they were judging us. Two teenage looking kids, dirty ol’ stayouts, drinking beers ’til the wee hours. I yawned for the millionth time. “You’re tired, huh? Let’s get you home.” We jumped off the ledge into the rocky dirt and back to the car. I dropped him off feeling bad that my life would stay exactly the same while his drastically changed. I hoped he’d survive the brutality of prison. I prayed the Mexicans would take him under their wings despite him being Indonesian. They had before, they could again.
Arriving home, Van greeted me sleepily, shaking his pompom tail and begging me where I’d been. He hadn’t even woken up when I crept out at 4:20 upon Chris’ invitation. I flung open the sliding door, the one that peeks my ears to the realm outside my own. I felt guilty for being me. Was I superior? No. I’d touched down on a war zone and my particular tone of skin kept me ignorant and unscathed. Aren’t I just lucky?
9/11/17 9:34PM, in the sky
I. Am. Tired. Thoroughly, very. very.
I arrived at the Toronto Film Fest on Friday after a enjoyable flight with Reza. We traveled together by happy coincidence and requested seats side by side. After discovering all upgrades unavailable, we’d passed Allison Brie in 1st, Brie Larson in business, and wound up in the final row, beside the bathrooms. We willfully decided there was something dignified about this position, as though we’d been irreverent and intentionally booked the final row. “It’s last class. Last class,” he chuckled.
At the Pearson airport, after checking into Canada beside Nicholas Cage, Reza and I parted with a hug. I discreetly yanked my Lululemons from between my cheeks while Rebecca swung up in a pristine town car. Her latest movie, Novitiate, was showing and I’d come on a whim to support. She looked beautiful, her dark chocolate hair pinned behind the ears, her cheekbones cutting like blades through pale skin. Rebecca mulled about her phone organizing our night and I felt fortunate to be there, on another adventure. I didn’t expect to push forth my own project which I considered might be sad. Since when did I possess such diminished hope that anything good would happen for lil’ ol’ me? I found comfort in touting the movie’s stars as “my actress friends” deliberately separating them from me, me from them. I wanted to pretend I’d forfeited the race and wasn’t running anymore. They can sweat and pine and work and I’ll watch and cheer them on. It’s safer for my ego on the sideline, I suppose. But since when have I ever thought this way?
I bought two exceedingly sweet glasses of rose at the hotel bar and carried them to our room. The Gladstone is an artists’ hotel, each enclave designed by a different creator. Ours featured a wall-sized woven tapestry of what appeared to be a naked caveman orgy at the beginning of time. The bathroom was wallpapered in faux stone. Rebecca and I unpacked our respective bags, her carefully removing suede Dior and blood red Manolos. I was grateful I’d painstakingly styled myself in advance, taking photos in each outfit like Cher prepping for her date. I prayed my Dolce Vitas and Toga Pullas would masquerade themselves as Versaces and YSLs. They weren’t a far cry from one another after all. I’d walk with my shoulders back and plead their case.
We didn’t arrive early to the InStyle party, which may have proved a mistake. Many attendees came and went, doing their due diligence and heading to bed. Still, we each teetered on heels, swishing our gowns through the crowd. Frankly, for all my years in LA, I’d never seen so many celebrities in one setting. Kyle MacLachlan obliging a photo, Willem Dafoe, Brie and Brie (now dressed up), Jessica Chastain radiating, Emma Roberts, Jamie Dornan, an auburn Abbey Lee pondering a switch to my strawberry blonde, and, “Let’s say hi to Jake.” Gyllenhaal I’ve met time and again but I’d rather pretend in lieu of making him remember. Though, if he weren’t a star, I’d be pissed by now. Apparently I’ll allow this double standard of an actor. And for the record, I’m feeling foolish for even highlighting these people for a story. After all, I’ve fantasized being in their ranks, whether in front of or behind the camera. But on this particular trip, I wanted to feel this way… this distance. I was ashamed by my lack of success.
Still, in the foreground stood Elle Fanning. I’m told I look like her, or vise versa, and even Britney Spears’ mom once mistook me as such. “Are you one of them Fannin’ sisters,” she’d sung in her cute Southern accent.
Elle, Elle, Elle, what a beauty. She appeared genuinely etherial, as if not a hint of adversity or fear had ever touched her heart. Her porcelain skin glowed flawlessly and her powdery, food cake hair shone, a spotlight upon it, the source of which could not be found or traced. She looked like a literal angel. I rested a half glass of tequila ginger between my palms and spied. At this point, I’d be arrogant to assume we look akin but I couldn’t deny she reminded me of some yesteryear. Her confidence was that of unabashed belonging. Elle spun through the room, her flesh pink dress undoubtably sewn together by chirping birds and anxiety riddled mice. Her toothy smile promised you’ll love her, and you do. She possesses the confidence in which I’d checked the high school musical casting list. Of course I’d be the star. Everyone knew. Of course I’d do well. Everyone knew. Meanwhile, back in Toronto, I’d offended a producer by complimenting his boisterous laugh. I loved it but he didn’t appreciate the reminder. His reverberating chuckle apparently embarrasses him. I shyly plucked a lavender macaroon from the height of a styrofoam cake in avoidance. “This is going so well,” I laughed to myself.
The next afternoon, Rebecca and I attended a cocktail party and the screening of Novitiate. My old friend Philip Ettinger was there premiering First Reformed with Amanda Seyfried. I know him and Margaret Qualley both via my beloved Emily Meade who’s now starring in The Deuce. I embraced Margaret, the million beads of her otherworldly Valentino gown digging into my skin, and was overcome with pride and happiness. The sensation of beholding friends’ success is unparalleled. I loved seeing everyone overjoyed. I told Diana Argon I’d been dying to see her particular Dior in person, black mesh with intricately embroidered phases of the moon lining the entire length of her body. And I’m ashamed to be such a magpie but I am. I love being in heightened situations with those who’ve aligned their lives and careers with the elite. But all the while, what they say is true, that people are people and it’s as simple as that. Rebecca and the girls dressed as nuns and used the instrument of their bodies and imaginations to play out emotions I’ve felt my entire life, things I’d never seen on screen. Most of the cast claimed to be quite godless, or lost in the mystery of the great beyond but Margaret admitted she imagined God was her boyfriend. It was a sensual love story between Jesus and the nuns who longed to marry him. I could relate.
After Q&A, Rebecca left for a meeting and I met Reza and his friends for an extravagant sushi dinner. I beamed at this table of 12, the guest of honor in an ostentatious Gucci track suit, the entire restaurant rented out and emptied in a display of unrestrained wealth. Everyone was kindhearted and loving, deeming me Mia Wallace in a silk, white blouse.
Back at the hotel, Rebecca and I traded experiences and felt satisfied we’d come, saddened to leave. The next day I only had time to drop $150 fixing my ill Iphone and to begin writing this. Now, I’m flying home from Toronto beside a literary agent at Paradigm and on a plane chock full of industry folk, tired and exhilarated by their new deals and clients and money making schemes. There’s an excitement in the air but it’s not penetrating me at all. Instead, my throat is sore and my form is fading, sinking into the disagreeably hard seat, begging for bed. We made a polite conversation, the literary agent and I before he reached for his earbuds and awkwardly grinned. I smiled back grateful that for all of my flaws and shortcomings, I can read a room. I can catch a vibe. I know when someone hopes I’ll stop talking. I noticed his bright, brown eyes glaze over at the word “writer”. He’d asked what I do but didn’t want to hear it. At least, not that: Writer. He brushed soft hands against ink black slacks and leaned back in silence, thereby silencing me.
I complied. I respected his wishes.
Though the first draft of On Her Knees has been done since July 2016, I’ve only researched and queried agents about a month ago. I suppose I’d fantasied something would fall into my pretty, open lap, much like I’d naively believed a girl could get discovered at the Sunset Coffee Bean in 2005. Naivety, naivety, naivety. I hate to bother people but I’m often told that being bold sets one aside, illuminates a person. But really, I worry he’d just be annoyed, queried on a plane. Besides, I’ve got no butterflies, no spark. I’m exhausted, trying to draw attention to my book. “Listen to me,” I think in stuffy ballrooms and bicoastal Soho Houses and dinner parties where absolutely everyone hopes, also, to be noticed. Even when they already are, they hope to sustain their relevance. Frankly, my desire to become important to the masses has nearly disappeared. Not in a joyful, figured-out-a-better-plan kind of way. Just mid-climb, on the mountain, out of water.
Back at the airport, after meeting an array of movie stars and publicists, I felt none the richer or closer to a thing. I pulled my detestably sapphire carryon closer to the gate and clutched a slim copy of The Pigeon. Everything seemed to take forever and I buried my gaze in it’s pages hopelessly unable to stop eavesdropping on the neighboring conversation. Three studio execs stood in a circle clucking to the sky we’d soon slice through together. They were jovial and celebratory, riding high off whatever victories they’d enjoyed and whatever prospects lie ahead. The lone woman was in her late 40s I’d say, but effortlessly beautiful. She wore an easy long sleeved tee and a pair of blue jeans. I glanced in her direction and considered, I’ve still got time to become happy, to get what I want. There, she kicked from heel to heel and was indeed one of the boys. She wasn’t a mere object of desire but a fully working woman with a career beneath her leather belt. With a primary boarding announcement made, I stowed my literature and heard, “You like The Pigeon? How you likin’ that book?” This party of three turned their collective attention to me. The pretty woman assessed me with bright, open eyes and I blinked.
“Um, have you read Perfume?” I wished my heart would relax to an ordinary pace. I wished I didn’t want things so badly. I wished to tell the woman what I thought of her, how intriguing she was as a lit up being.
“I read perfume,” she offered. “And I’ve seen the movie.”
“The book is better, don’t you think? It’s beautiful.”
“And I don’t have a very good sense of smell so -“
“Now boarding groups 1 through 3!”
I wished I’d said “vivid” in lieu of “good”. I would’ve seemed educated and articulate. They scurried away like 3 mice with a perfect sense of vision and I cursed my ticket: Group 4. I considered rushing into line, to prolong our conversation but I couldn’t bear the shame of being booted. I sighed and shrugged to the sky, to my perpetual source of comfort and strength. I’m still a good Christian girl after all. It was amusing, the cruel twist of an unfruitful trip all the way to the bitter end.
But please allow me to clarify. Like a hopeless romantic, I believe in destiny and positive thinking and the power of prayer. I believe in the vivid, surprising, and joyful plot twists of life. Maybe years from now me and the woman will reconnect in a more suitable setting, my novel stacked in the airport book store. Or maybe, this guy beside me will warm and wonder what I’m up to. After all, he sees me in his peripheral, calmly, lazily stamping on these keys. Or maybe nothing will be at all like I imagine and I’ll be overjoyed with the outcome all the same.
I began A Gold Noise 13 years ago on myspace.com. At the time, I hadn’t considered writing a viable profession. This site was simply a catharsis for the myriad of annoying thoughts residing in my mind. Writing became an excellent, addictive purge to scatter myself in type and continue on with life.
However, wonderfully so, blogging evolved into something greater. I discovered that my candor on sexuality, religion, dating, being a woman, blah, blah, blah became a catalyst for others to share their stories in return.
Negative thoughts stored in the privacy of our minds have the ability to fester and leave us each feeling terribly alone. The great irony is that there is nothing new under the sun: we’re all sharing the human experience together. No matter how dissimilar we appear, our journeys prove far more universal than not.
I hope that my willingness to expose myself will encourage you to do the same.
None of us are alone. Life can be shit. But I’ll be here, publicly wading through it on our behalf. Keep your secrets if you like but I’ll be telling mine. xx