There's a lot more hope in this story than there is in This is a House of Warship, even if the hope is synthetic. The darkness isn't really less dark, it's just high, or perhaps more stupid, if only because it takes place in Hollywood, a place that can easily bring out the stupidity in people. Like This is a House of Warship, there is always more to tell. I wrote the song "Over The 5 And Far Away" about this season, and the songs "Trailer on the Moon" and "I'll Never Love You" were written for "Stacy," though she never got to hear them. "I'll Never Love You" isn't strictly true, because in fact I loved her very much. Like "Warship," this story doesn't capture the beauty of the season as well as it could. It reports the events of the colorful California nightmare in an amusing fashion, but the events themselves are nothing without the beauty behind the scenes, the nebulous sparks that animated everything like a doped-up fireworks show.
But hey, maybe that's what the songs are for (in fact, I wrote "California Hills" at the St. Moritz Hotel, within days of breaking out of this situation).
Whatever the case, last I heard, "Stacy" was living in Vancouver, Washington. This all happened 20 years ago, so in all likelihood, God forbid, she's dead.
The songs are posted at the end of the story.
Thanks for listening.
Good Morning Hollywood
I met Stacy at the porn shop I worked, standing behind the counter selling videohead cleaner to the tweekers and fags for them to huff and get high on. Lotsa fags in Silverlake. I timed it once, and I'd get hit on by some old man high on gasoline every 20 minutes. I would stand there and listen to their pitch as the manager told them to not waste their time, cuz I was straight, and the guy would go "straight men are like trees, you climb them long enough they'll bend over eventually." And I was like, no they won't. These guys would rent their videos of dudes whacking off on the hoods of camaros and rubbing their dicks all over each other, and you'd open the bag and at least a couple times a day the videos would be completely smeared with lube. I mean dripping. Like, not a random thumbprint that the guy accidentally left on the corner of the box, but like, a whole tube of hot sauce totally emptied on the video, purposefully applied to the tape and the box and more for inside the bag, and the cover with the big ugly dicks blurred by lube, totally sick. Emptying the return bin was a job that required gloves. It was a job you volunteered for if you were in a really good mood and wanted to express your appreciation of your coworkers. Of course you had to deflect the gay come-ons, with your yellow gloves and handfulls of lubey dick tapes, but it was a cool job cuz I lived right behind the place and could walk home and get stoned on my 10-minute break.
I called my house the Tropical Trash Pad, cuz someone would drink a beer and set it on the table and a week later the can was still there. The dishes would go so long without being washed that the ants would eat all the food and then go away cuz they didn't have anything else to eat. I had a pot connection up in Hollywood, an eighth for 20 bucks, terrible weed, full of stems and seeds, but 20 bucks? And anyway, it was high-end schwag. I used to practice in my friend's apartment upstairs from the dealer, cuz everybody there was shady and nobody wanted any cop noise so you could pretty much do what you wanted. You would go downstairs with the poor sad kids watching cartoons and the mommy selling coke and speed. I hate to say this here but that kinda makes me sick. I hate to moralize, but it does, I mean, kids? I drank bottles of cough syrup upstairs and watched the helicopters 1000 miles away flying around in the clouds. I sang really loud cuz nobody was ever going to call the cops. My friend would blast his crazy soul and country and rap tunes at 3am and nobody would complain. We did lots of blow with my friend and his escort girlfriend who was a Hollywood blonde with fake tits and who never made any sense no matter what she said. I learned to like her, but I hated her at first. She would open her mouth and you would have no idea what she was talking about. You could tell it was English, and it wasn't an accent or anything, but the words didn't make any sense, they didn't turn into sentences, it was a stream of meaninglessness pouring out of her red mouth and driving you crazy. Always I wondered what the hell she was doing with us, a buncha small-time losers, this smokin' hot chick who didn't make any sense, and us smoking weed and doing lines of blow and my friend skateboarding down Hollywood Boulevard with a blowup doll and a can of beer, good morning Hollywood. She was always trying to screw me but she was with my friend so there was no way. She was really not my type anyway, I can't stand that fake Hollywood look, but the friend thing, I never cross that line.
Once, I made out with a chick on the steps of the Greyhound in San Francisco and told her to come back to LA with me and crash with my friend and his bimbo girlfriend, but there was common sense in her eyes and she declined, so I got off the bus in Hollywood and watched the sun come up behind the palm trees and walked over to my friend's place. The bimbo was gone, replaced by a young Asian chick who was the punk-rock guitar player in their new band. I bought a bass at the pawn shop and learned a few tunes, but we had an argument about something, small place, some drugs, self-mutilation, I'd come home and my friend would be slicing his arms up drinking out of a bottle of Jägermeister and vibing me bad. Somehow the bass flew out the window and I tore an American flag to shreds and then there was peace. There was lots of comic book paraphernalia around the apartment, technicolor lunch boxes and action figures everywhere, crazy posters on the wall, smiling wastoids wearing crowns. I love that guy, I miss him a lot, wish he was still in town, one of my best friends, one hardcore S.O.B. He would visit me at the Tropical Trash Pad and we'd watch videos from the landlady who thought I was cute and tried to hook me up with her ex-wrestler daughter. The landlady gave me videos of her daughter pile-driving chicks in the 80's, to better acquaint me with her family. We smoked a lot of weed of course, painkillers, coke, ecstasy, lots of spiderwebs in the house, dusty, musty, one huge cockroach, only one. My mattress was almost black from heavy scummy use over the years. I would practice in my bedroom but the walls were so thin my roommate said he could hear me clearly all the way up on Sunset, so I figured my practices better be good cuz I was performing for more people in my bedroom than I was at my shows. I started rolling around with this chick from Woodland Hills or something, total LA chick, had a rich friend in some loft downtown we'd go party in, always dancing on the roof, downtown everywhere around us, feeling high and dumb and crazy.
We drove to Santa Barbara and back, and we walked around the Sunset Junction street fair with Sonic Youth having just played and people standing in line on Sunset for tickets to the Twister and other carnival rides, kids winning stuffed animals, people smoking weed, carnival lights like walking around inside a pinball machine, we had a party and it was a different strain of high-grade pot with orange and purple and white hair in every bowl, a huge party and everybody drinking, and that LA sky at night, pink, and some chick who called herself "Pussy Pants" walking around, crazy punk-rock lunatics and party people, lots of junkies I would soon find out. I liked to roll a joint and walk around the hills of Silverlake and Los Feliz, walking around with my headphones digging on the crazy Flintstones flowers everywhere, and cholo kids trying to scare me with basketballs, but at night it was best. I was listening to a lot of Vespertine by Björk and also the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. I met Björk once, which isn't strictly true; I worked at the Chateau Marmont and had to go up to a room to pick up some dry cleaning and Björk answers the door wearing a bathrobe and with wet hair and shooting crazy powers out of her eyes. I kinda froze, and she hands me this frilly one-piece Victorian England underwear thing, some show costume I guess, and she looked at me and I pledged my love to her right there, but like without speaking, and she didn't get the hint and closed the door in my face with her wet hair driving me totally crazy. The place smelled like aloe and garbage, a crazy job, but that's a story for another time.
Stacy walked in to my job at the pornshop to buy Marlboro Lights and sodas. She was stick-thin, pale, black shock of hair hanging down over her crazy eyes, crazy little-girl looks and voice, totally sexy. We were sitting on my couch that smelled like a dead dog took a supernatural shit in an old sock from the afterlife and planted it under the cushions; we were sitting there watching TV and she leans over and plants a kiss on my cheek so we start making out cuz I'm into it, and her little girl socks and her blue bicycle. She would be going to audience jobs on her blue bicycle, and she'd stop by afterwards and we'd go walking through Silverlake and Los Feliz, over the Shakespeare Bridge, up into the hills, with her junky skin and wild freakish brain and the hot sun all over the place, sweating in our T-shirts, walking up concrete outdoor staircases through exploding flowers and wild vines, hot rod cars sometimes parked with their tops down on the street, collecting sunlight and dust on the open seats, walking around I don't know, talking I guess. I've historically been a sucker for that stuff, some crazy chick shows you cool things you never saw before and you start to dig her. I was gaining spiritual momentum and doing well at open mics, and it was all going to come crashing down hard, very soon.
I don't remember the exact reason for the argument, but some heavy vibes overtook the Tropical Trash Pad, and my roommate's friends were all hating on me pretty hard. I was sitting in the living room with no lights on, staring like the devil into black space, and some people were coming over with baseball bats. I was going to have to tear somebody's nuts off while my head was getting bashed in. That would be my last act, not saving a kitten from a fire, or helping an old woman across the street, but ripping someone's testicles off with my bare hands and throwing them on the roof of the thrift store, for the crows to eat and play with. That's what was going to be on my tombstone, not "kindly father," or "loving husband," but rather, "TORE A MAN'S NUTS OFF." Stacy came over and was like, what's happening? I don't even remember what was said. Some people arrived. The door opened, all my old friends, who I'd smoked with and seen bands with and taken car rides with, all staring at me with intent to kill, and baseball bats and rage. Stacy was like, you have to get out of here right now, these crazy assholes are going to kill you. Why don't you come up to my place? At that moment I lost all my momentum, I was at the mercy of strangers and week-old girlfriends; in order to avoid getting my head bashed in I moved up the street, the same street except at the crest of a small hill instead of right behind the pornshop on Sunset. Right now, throw everything in a couple of bags, grab your guitar, and move. I have been moving on a moment's notice like that for years. I have noticed that it creates a natural anxiety in you, a lack of faith in permanence of any kind, almost a disbelief in any such thing, nothing is going to last, the hammer always falls. Who cares? My roommate was cool and just said, "go, just get out," and we were able to make a couple of trips to the top of the hill, which is where the real drama began.
We were sitting up there the first night, with the TV on, and the wooden floor looking almost peeled back, gutted, not nice and polished, but with nails sticking out of it and pieces of carpet haphazardly tacked down wherever. The view was great, and you could see the Hollywood sign in the distance, and all the lights of Hollywood, and Sunset not far below us. The room wasn't small, and there was a comfortable carpeted hallway to the bathroom, which had a bowling pin with all her friend's signatures on it, some party gift, and colorful lights, and a nice shower. Lots of guys had been resuscitated in that shower, I learned later. It was my new home, with my cool badass girlfriend finally and no lame roommates with baseball bats and none of that, finally peace. Stacy opened the bedside table and took out a sheet of aluminum foil. She picked up a small tightly-wrapped balloon and tore it open, revealing a small chunk of Mexican black tar heroin. She cut herself a little piece and rolled a cylinder out of the foil, and put the heroin on the foil and lit a lighter under it until the tar melted down the foil, which she held at an angle, sucking up the smoke through her aluminum straw. The piece of aluminum was streaked with black trails of heroin. She nodded a little and said "you want some?" I did. I didn't feel pressured or angry or depressed that she had just got loaded. I wasn't indignant, I was curious. I had never taken any dope before, never even seen it. The acrid smell from the burning foil and the bubbling black bead of tar, sickening. She said I would probably get sick if it was my first time. That I would probably puke and not to worry about it. She fixed my first hit. I took it, and immediately ran into the bathroom to puke. Puking was easy, like taking a piss. No big deal. I have known junkies to just pass around a bag of puke, no big deal, part of the scene. Like, what's your problem, aren't you down with the junky-jiving bag-of-puke scene? I went back in the bedroom and sat on the bed and watched pastel-colored worms trace their way in strange geometric patterns on the wall, like some strange living wallpaper, and the nod was good. It was great. That hole in your gut, that foul feeling of the elevator cable finally breaking, and you falling into the hole, and liking it. Hollywood sounded like an ocean at my window, and yeah yeah yeah of course the palm trees, and it was my birthday 2 days before and I celebrated by smoking a buncha heroin and getting utterly and completely loaded. Heroin went from a drug I had never seen in my life to my drug of choice in less than one night. It permanently altered my way of thinking, my view of things, the way I dressed. To this day I prefer black and white clothes to colors. It made things black and white. Except my silk dragon robe from the Goodwill, in fact I'm wearing it now. I'm wearing the same thing right now I used to wear in those days, my olive green polyester ROTC pants, my maroon silk dragon robe from Goodwill. I guess the black and white talk is a bunch of bullshit. Never believe anything, I guess is the way to be when you're hanging around with me.
It was a very colorful world we inhabited for a while. October came, and then the impending holidays. We were doing audience participation work, where a studio hires you to sit in a TV taping for minimum wage cash. We would sit in the bright orange and purple studio of shows like Pyramid, with Donny Osmond walking around and signing photos and us mocking everyone and their lame clothes, and the big set and boom cameras and lights and professional union workers running around hanging things and driving 4-story lift trucks. And we'd take our 40 bucks and cop a buncha dope and nod out at night with the Hollywood sign outside our window and the Christmas lights going up. We took the number 4 bus everywhere, to the Wayne Brady show at CBS Television City, to game shows like Hollywood Squares, comedy shows, reality shows, all manner of crap, but no sitcoms. They don't need to hire people for sitcoms, they can get tourists to do that for free. They did judge shows, like People's Court, but I never got hired for that, and the one time Stacy did they told her she would never work on a court show again. We didn't look like a realistic background to a respectable court scene, a couple of nodding-off junkies with crazy hair and no sleep, only the nod. The shows were always loud and in your face and lots of unnatural colors and bright lights and official important-sounding business for everyone but you. You are minimum wage wallpaper, shut your mouth punk. The comedian hired to make everybody happy and fun and energetic but who in reality it would have been impossible to sit through those loud comedians without heroin to go home to, throwing bite size candybars into the crowd and the insane idiots losing it completely, one grown man even diving into my lap for a Snickers bar the size of his thumb. Dude, have some dope. We'd take the bus home and immediately get high and life was good. I could have and would have kept on like that for 30 years, if I'd been given the chance. It sucked, but it was great.
Thanksgiving came around, and we had to find our underage drunken Mexican mafia kid to cop dope from, so we walked all the way down, past the early morning shops at dawn, Silverlake taquerias, free clinics, thrift stores, car lots, hotels, laundromats, down to somewhere near the Rampart area where those corrupt cops had all that big news way back, and we got in the back seat and the kid is obviously drunk, driving around dealing heroin in his tiny Honda of course, with his friend, and Stacy arguing over a handful of change with him, counting pennies as if her life depended on it, which it did, screaming at him, and him screaming back, and all this loud screeching and gangsta rap blasting and the kid driving like an idiot all over the place, and he dropped us off in Echo Park so we walked back up Sunset on Thanksgiving morning through all the waste and graffiti and beauty and sunshine with a buncha dope to go home and smoke. I hadn't started mainlining it yet. That was later, with a different girl, different people, different scene entirely. I still had to get away from Stacy. That wouldn't be 'til New Years. We had a party at Stacy's right after I moved in, all my Hollywood friends with the bimbos and coke, so much coke that the next morning I found a little baggie of it in the blankets on the floor, dropped by some foul loon in a coke-induced love rampage, probably jumping on the ceiling and walking around on the moon like a fool, and it fell out of his pocket so we had to do it immediately of course. By daylight of course Stacy is wearing a showercap and checking for cops every 10 minutes, but I'm totally chill, what's your problem baby, do another line, etc. Once during a fight she pulled a knife on me and held it up to me and I snarled at her, "YOU DON'T HAVE THE BALLS TO USE THAT FUCKING THING! YOU'RE ALL TALK!" then wrestled the knife out of her hands, rolling around on the floor with some homicidal junky bitch with needle scars and abscessed veins all up and down her legs, permanently damaged, she would never wear shorts or a skirt again. Ever. She hissed at me and ran into the kitchen to get a bigger knife. We sat across the room like that holding knives at each other and staring at each other with malice, for several hours. I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes in that time. I don't remember what happened, but I got out. I'd get bored though, and go back. Finally though I'd had it. I stopped doing audience work and was working at some telemarketing hellhole in the valley, an hour and a half ride each way on the bus, long walks. Vermont/Santa Monica, where the 156 let me off, or the red line if I took the 163 into Hollywood, the long slow bus past the Burbank airport and around in a hundred circles until finally Sherman Way forever, until you got to work. I'd get paid and my check would be up in smoke in 2 days. Finally I'd had it. We had tickets to see The Cramps at the Henry Fonda Theater on New Year's Eve, and she was working at some retail shop on Fairfax, and on her way to work she says, the guy across the hall asked us to cop for him. He gave me a hundred bucks, so can you cop? I said that I could, hoping to God that she couldn't read my motives. I heard the hundred bucks and knew that was my way out. Instead of copping a hundred bucks of dope, cutting it in half and giving the poor sucker across the hall 50, keeping 50 for myself to get off on all day and all night forever and ever, I was going to get out. I didn't know where, I didn't care, as long as it was now and as long as it was away from here. She didn't read me. She walked out with her sassy perfectly-round ass in black work pants moving from side to side and the door closed and I waited for a few minutes in case she forgot something. Then, when some time passed, I packed everything into my army rucksack and took the hundred bucks and got OUT. Checked into the St. Moritz Hotel mildly dope-sick, not too bad, I was really more of a chipper than a full-on junky, the heroin equivalent of a binge drinker, and my symptoms were mild and easy to cope with. Some tired legs, some nausea, a feeling of being turned inside out and all your nerves waving in the scummy breeze, but nothing real bad. I could hear the people partying outside my window, as New Years came and went in Hollywood, all the drunks laughing, and me in the fetal position on a musty bed in a hotel full of scum and bugs, and the Christmas tree on top of the Capitol Records building, the long strands of red and white lights they string up to look like a Christmas tree, a little farther west on Vine, shining outside my window, thanking Jesus firsthand for bailing my dumb ass out of another hairy situation.
From the book Dancing on the Ceiling of My Existential Kitchen © 2012 Nathan Payne