A Book of Days: A Collagic Study for the Representation of Los Angeles

The night was white cold and clear in its desert hoary winter moonlight. By then she was sleeping not in the spartan bedroom, but out in the living room so the wintry wetness of the night pool-light wove mint tinged nets across the ceiling. There she slept on a faded red futon mattress that she purchased after it had remained on outdoor display in a parking lot for months the previous winter. The cats enjoyed its salty, oily odor. She slept there wrapped in a thick sleeping bag. The sleeping bag had a psychological purpose. In light of the uneasy sense she had that sleeping regularly in a room other than the bedroom could be construed as the first step toward something unnamable, she told herself that she was sleeping under this arrangement just until the insulation of the sleeping bag made the heat prohibitive, and just until the task of fitting wispy sheets to the mattress every evening became too daunting and indicative of her mania for hiding the issue, just until the heat blossomed, just until the fires began to burn in the mountains and set to weaving the brimstone grey nets across the bedroom ceiling, sleeping out here only because the bedroom in the apartment was so stark, so damp, only because the palms scraped against the screens and there was no one to wake her up in the mornings.

Midmorning. She was out until mid afternoon. The skies were losing their blue solidity and slipping into that misty neutrality that reawakened her awareness of a ground plane in the city. At this time of year the afternoons were evenings and by nine postmeridian she was dead to the world.

After an aimless tour of the courtyard and galerie leading to her apartment door, she hesitantly entered and sat down on the futon in the outer room of the apartment. She sat as though waiting for someone in the lobby of a hotel. One of her elbows rested against the edge of the futon that touched the wall. Her shoulder leaned against the wall as though it were the wing of an all-encompassing armchair. She remained distant that way for almost half an hour without moving anything but her forearms and hands, which ran periodically across the more oily portions of her face. She, at length, rose and went into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed.

Although it was still early in the afternoon, she felt very sleepy. She was afraid to stretch out and go to sleep. Not because she had bad dreams, she adored the depths of grey sleep, but she feared the difficult task of waking up again. When she fell asleep, she was always afraid she would never get up. She would grow conscious, but not among the living.

Her fear was not as strong as her need to sink away. She got the alarm clock and set it for seven postmeridian, then threw it into the hallway to necessitate her rising somewhat consciously in order to disarm it. Two hours later, it seemed like mere seconds to her, the alarm went off. The hammering shriek lasted for a full minute before she began to laboriously work toward consciousness. The struggle was a hard one. She groaned. Her head trembled and her feet shot out. Finally her eyes opened, then widened. Once more victory was hers. She smoked five cigarettes in succession, into an ashtray on her chest, before rising.

It was then hideous dusk and her grog was still deep. She spent the evening sitting, rising to awareness, and watching the cat sleep. She spent the night wide awake and keenly driving in a meticulous loop around Los Angeles County.

It was after the rains at dusk. The sky would be shown to pedestrians in the puddles of tepid water as a cerulean purple festooned with grey. The sun remained in the wetted smog like a million tiny moons. The apartments of Los Angeles shivered from napping with damp beads of sweat blooming on their walls.

There was nothing to eat in the apartment and he had to walk down to the glowing Vons on Centinela Boulevard for food. He thought of waiting until morning when he would be obligated to leave the sundrenched building, but then, although he was not hungry, decided against waiting. It was only eight postmeridian, the sky was green and the trip would reacquaint him with the nuanced dusk lighting of the environs, which had slipped from his memory since walking the previous evening. If he just sat in the front room of the apartment, the temptation to go to sleep again would become irresistible. The lurking futon in dusk, the drowsy cats, both drawing eyes down like the spring shower passed with steel tumult heavy on the sky.

The night was strangely warm and very still for the uniform malevolence that coated the flat sky like plaster. He started down hill, walking on the outer edge of the pavement. He hurried between lampposts, where the shadows were heaviest, and came to a full stop for a moment at every circle of light to skulk low and sleek with the fastest eyes known in darkness. Upon reaching the cross street at Centinela he stopped for several minutes on the corner to get his bearings. He stood there, poised with one arm looped behind his back clutching the opposite elbow. His solitude at the crest of the parking lot was such that if he did not go toward the fluorescent vapor of the supermarket at that very moment, he may have approached the brink and lost the capacity to interact with anything but the most familiar conditions.

But already there was a woman walking across the parking lot in darkness. He sat back against the bollard at the perimeter of the property and watched the woman who had come from the Carolina Pines Motel wearing a muumuu cross the asphalt expanse to the supermarket. The woman walked in small mincing steps and kept raising her hand as if to shield her eyes from the vacant sunlight. As if in a trance he watched the woman, for it seemed to him then that he was watching the dead still center of the world, the quintessential intersection of nothing.

He had watched these people in the supermarket and he knew the signs. At seven postmeridian on a Saturday evening they would be standing in the checkout line of Vons reading the horoscope in the Harper’s Bazaar and in their carts would be a single bottle of juice and maybe two cans of cat food and the Sunday morning paper, the early edition with the comics wrapped on the outside. He began to notice these patterns. He began to wonder what he was doing there with them.

The ‘City of Los Angeles’ authority is the largest statutory authority in LA, however, within the radius of metropolitan Los Angeles there are also a number of smaller individual cities who are self-governing and set their own percent for art programs, one of these is Culver City, a district located a few miles from downtown LA. A number of years ago the council in Culver City, amended their percent for art ruling by permitting architecture in certain circumstances to be considered public art. They added a proviso that the artwork should be clearly distinguished from the building architecture and standard design features.

A critic standing amidst the crowd as a new sculpture opened was heard to balk: “Instead of Culver City’s atavistic view, consider this: If a work of architecture is good enough, it transcends its lowly status and becomes?”

“Good architecture.”

“Yes. If a building is bad enough, it is bad architecture, and if it is mediocre enough, it is mediocre architecture. Never, however is architecture art. Architecture is architecture. And what is wrong with that? Why should it be embarrassed about its status and seek some holier-than-thou consecration as a work of art? Why should the richness of the commonplace be overshadowed by the garishness of intention?”

In midsummer his sisters arrived in town for a brief but intense stay. They spent five (5) days with him and left early on the morning of his birthday. On the eve of their departure a certain buzzing was audible between the three of them. It was a trepidation they felt in leaving him alone, and the numbness he felt growing back into his eyes. They dressed that night amongst each other their wet hair and the warmth of their showers and fresh faces slowed the pulse of the air as they dined close in the dark. The wetness of showers did not depart the senses as the three (3) of them had not left each others supple sight for fear that one on one of them might be combustible after so much proximity and sharing and keeping one another in check, they dined. For them, after the fashion of their lives, dining after sequential showers made the flush on their faces like settling into warm sheets that are fresh from a wash and spin, bare and feeling prickled hair on lower back and sheets and skin dissolve. It gave them places to hide dining in low light. The glimmers of what purple and red light there was set the marine texture of their three (3) cropped coiffures aglisten and their somber dress attire made the airbrushed junks and barges twinkle as if the farewell meal was held in Hong Kong harbour amidst the wavering skyscraper antennae, sparking of the churning wake of wind drawn wood, or the projecting dock plateau adrift in a north Thai rice paddy in near-dusk post-sunset storm purple on blood red water. It was anywhere but Fairfax, and any night except the last one.

The warmth of meal in wet stomach, curry warm on tongue sticky rice alump in the belly, the paste of saturated boiled potatoes powdering the lining, above clean underpants and against a sweater hugged tight as the cold apartment light and the pleasurable dull tingle of knowing that beyond the hollow door the two fastidious houseguests were preparing for him futilely a party. He knew and pushed aside the notion that this was also a farewell. This gesture settled the visit and the knowledge that this trinity of only warmth, this nestled cleanliness of emotion and wet hair was sentenced to be outlasted by the mylar confetti that stuck statically at carpet nailers and behind door swings for the coming weeks.

The following afternoon he found himself weeping on the phone at the operator as he shook crosslegged on the floor surrounded by balloons and icepacks. His sisters had left early that morning in a rush. Both because they had fallen asleep at dawn and because they could not let the last picture of him sitting in his car at LAX be one of protracted isolation. He rose gradually through the hall and pushed his bedroom door open. The mirror he avoided for the past year lay directly to his left and he stepped away from it toward the opposite wall. There was a perspectival quadrilateral of wavering light before him. The mirror. Not the representation of him to himself, but the reflection of the city beyond impressed on his space. Again the late afternoon of barbecue summer swept like orange dust through the blinds.

He lived an apartment house above a place where a family of Mexican émigrés stayed. They were a transient pod. These new patriots had quickly converted the bedroom, which was directly below his own, into a day room, with a stereo of what seemed to be unimaginable proportions and inexplicable power. The thump of the incessant ranchero drove him to live in the front half of the apartment and to seal the bedroom with blankets and shirts where the sound grew from the floor. This was adequate for the time being as long as he remained hovering over the futon and did not touch the floor to receive the transmitted vibrations. He was sensitive to that.

Even now, the older houses just off the main thoroughfares looked like slums, and the new bungalows on the outskirts of the boroughs are at one with the flimsy structures of world fairs in their praise of technical progress and their built-in demand to be discarded after a short while like empty food cans. Yet the affordable housing is designed to perpetuate the individual as a supposedly independent unit in a small hygienic dwelling and make him subservient to his ambitions and his neighbors.

This one was a two-story pink stucco place with big slabs of stucco wiped from the walls by the earthquakes. Every night the stucco absorbed the fog like a blotter. In the mornings, the walls were a damp red instead of pink. Had it not been for the auroral rumblings of the promptly circadian family below, he may have continued to sleep through the red. As it happened, he began evacuating the house at nearly seven-thirty antemeridian every morning to seek refuge at a bourgeois coffeehouse in the production sector of Santa Monica. It was quickly decided that the red was superior.

Drive. He then forded Broadway in the striated crosswalk and went over to 18th Street Café. It was one of those clear, white summer mornings in Los Angeles that is left over from the early spring just as the high fog sets in. The rains were over. The hills were still green and in the valley across the Hollywood Hills you can still see snow on the high mountains. In Beverly Hills the jacaranda trees were just beginning to bloom. But in real time, it was white, the high fog was still, the lawns were brown and summer was petering into decay. The French doors of the café were open in the alcoves, Patsy Cline hummed softly yet clear through the leaves of plants by the entrance, a sparrow stood on a tile table near the door, and she was behind the counter. The usual: he ordered a bagel to be toasted and a cup of coffee to be dispensed. While he smeared marmalade on the bagel she smiled over at him from the counter. Her thin upper lip disappeared into her olive skin and her hair bobbed. The seconds of interaction ordering coffee from her promised made being exiled from home immediately after dawn almost a blessing.

She said, “You read a lot. Did you ever try writing a book?”

That did it. From that moment on he was a writer. “I’m writing a book now,” he commented.

She wanted to know what kind of book.

“My prose is not for sale. I write for the people.”

She said, “I didn’t know that. What do you write? Stories? Or plain fiction?”

Finding an ambiguous difference between these types, as he was convinced that the definition of ‘fiction’ had something to do with the definition of ‘story’, he replied, “Both. I am ambidextrous.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

As if sensing her disbelief, he went to his bag that was sitting at a tile table in the alcove and brought out a pencil and notebook. She wanted to know what he was writing now and cautiously bused the tables nearby. He said, “Nothing. Merely taking random notes for a future work on the bourgeoisie coffeehouse culture of the Westside. The subject interests me curiously, a sort of dynamic hobby I have picked up.”

That did him in. He spent the next two cups of coffee struggling through a description of the cast iron ceiling that was adequate at best.

Drive. The stairs at the apartment building squealed like a nest of mice. The apartment was the last on the second floor. As soon as he touched the doorknob a look of somber exhaustion came with the sunlight across his face. Returning home did that to him always. The desperation that came with sharing walls. He used to talk about what it would be like if everything were different, but could never figure out how to make it different.

As she stepped out in the evening she was bathed in a tepid green sky, without horizon, draping and anesthetizing her shoulders and back. The air was very still. She could sense a high breeze that somehow missed Los Angeles and swept a uniform autumnal purity due south. She started down the hill, the grade downward to the ocean, and turned south to watch the slowest rays of the sun finishing their journey. She hurried along the cross streets where the sky rested like a narrow vault deep in a series of bungalow flanked catacombs, and came to a full stop for a moment at the vast panorama of the east to west artery. Upon reaching the parking lot of the marketplace she stopped for several moments on the corner to get her bearings. She stood there, poised, with a book between her elbow and ribs. Her steps became a minced series of points as she shuffled among the people and onto a grass covered traffic island. She sat with the book open on her knees and stared at her coffee. She watched the warm cream begin to disperse. She watched her hand stir the liquids together. She watched the spiral turn to a cloud and to uniformity and forgot the presence of either initial liquid. She read her book in the waning light. Despite her desires, the nocturnal black picnic tapered into the rising night as autumn sagged from the sky.

He then opened the door fully. It was dark in the after noon, a darkness smelling of domesticity, of vacuum cleaner brush stripes on the nap of the carpet. He turned on the lights. The cat was lying on the futon and the light was waking her up. She squinted her eyes, thrust her forelegs out, and got up to her haunches. Every time he saw her half awake it made him think of the times when he was a child and would leave his room in the early mornings and bury his face in the fur of the sleeping family cat until he grew older and couldn’t go to her in the mornings because he had started losing the hours necessary for such indulgence. Sleeping them into the earth. But the cat was a cedary soft odor. He tried to not even think about how he grew older, less inquisitive and more exhausted. Grew to be like the cat in all the wrong ways. The ways that made one a poor human being. The cat walked toward him now and cooed, her hair mussed from sleep. Everything she did reminded him of the days when he lived in a real house.

His consistently populist insertion into the city fabric was disrupted. He was lost in its vacuous bowels. There are three entrances to the Bonaventure, one from Figueroa and the other two by way of elevated gardens on the other side of the hotel, which is built into the remaining slope of the former Bunker Hill. None of these is anything like the old hotel marquee, or the monumental porte cochere with which the sumptuous buildings of yesteryear were wont to stage the passage from city street to the interior. The entryways of the Bonaventure are, as it were, lateral and rather backdoor affairs: the gardens in the back point to the sixth floor of the towers, and even there a flight of steps must be descended to find the elevator leading to the lobby. By inverting its interests, the Bonaventure aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city; to this new total space, meanwhile, corresponds a new collective practice, a new mode in which individuals move and congregate.

The diagnosis of clinical introversion is confirmed by the great reflective glass skin of the Bonaventure. Now one would want rather to stress the way in which the skin repels the city outside; a repulsion for which we have analogies in those reflector sunglasses which make it impossible for your interlocutor to see your own eyes and thereby achieve a certain aloof aggression and power. In a similar way, the glass skin achieves a peculiar and placeless dissociation of the Bonaventure from its neighborhood: it is not even an exterior, inasmuch as when the outer walls are foregrounded, the thing itself disappears leaving only the distorted images of everything that surrounds it.

He became a moving-target-survivor subscriber, a true child of the city, because except for the rare times when he allowed himself to be pinned or stranded, the system was geared to keep him mobile and dazed. Some of the people there moved around like crazy people until they couldn’t see which way the routes were taking them anymore, only the glass and dust all over those dark surfaces, and the reflective orange sun on the unexpected penetrations to awareness.

During these pre-autumnal hauntings of the Bonaventure, the hundreds of canicular spaces and vernal skies of began to draw together until they had formed a collective meta-environment, and he wandered that even, like a rogue from a transient pod; as saver-destroyer, provider-waster, right hand-left hand, nimble, fluent, transient and resident; cold brown steel, rust, desert-sapped foliage, groundswept, sweat cooling and warming up again, noise on cassettes in one ear and mechanical elevator-humming in the other, fuel, visual heat, vitality and shadow, the living object itself, shadow hardly an intruder.

It was essential that she be on the freeway by ten o’clock. Not somewhere on Venice Boulevard, not listless at a metered onramp, but actually on the freeway. If she was not amidst her peers, her lessors, and their disastrous shared environment, she would lose the day’s rhythm, its precariously imposed momentum that was structured across something other than time: group dynamics of the anonymous. Once she was on the freeway and had maneuvered her way to the fast lane she turned on the radio at high volume and drove. She drove the San Diego to the Harbor, the Harbor up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana, the Pasadena, the Ventura. She drove it as a riverman runs a river, every day more attuned to its currents, its deceptions. She grew cold to her peers.

When she drove into the night she took the girl in the car with her. Some nights she and the girl would not say a word until the car stopped at the hedge in Culver City. These were called weekdays, because on weekends the car never stopped, and it was night into day and back and again that they shuttled that route, like a pendulum.

“I used to like this town,” she said, just to be saying something and not thinking too hard about the course. “When I wake up in the morning it seems as though there are still trees along Wilshire Boulevard. That Beverly Hills is still a country town. Westwood is bare hulls and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars with no takers. Hollywood is a bunch of frame houses on the inter-urban line. That Los Angeles is just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but good hearted and peaceful. Now we have a climate that mystifies us. We sleep indoors with air conditioners. The intellectuals have sold themselves. But everyone is intellectual and wears glasses now. It couldn’t have always been good, but it couldn’t have always been a neon slum either.”

The monologue crossed La Cienega and back to the curve of the strip. She compared LA to Mexico City, which she knew very well. They were volcanoes, spilling wreckage and desire in ever widening circles over a denuded countryside. It is never wise, she averred, to live too near a volcano. The terraces and sidewalks were packed with tourists and trust funds. The parking lots buzzed like ants on a piece of overripe fruit and the sinking night smelled like one that would never reconcile itself with the patterns of traffic. Was the route different? Not tonight.

“Real cities have something else, some individual bony structure under the muck. Los Angeles has shopping and water. Without that it would be a mailorder city. Everything in the catalogue you could get better somewhere else. I bet if someone stopped the flow of water here for three days, the jackals would reappear and the sand of the desert would drift up to the overhangs on all the dingbat apartments. Not that the jackals are gone, they are just invisible.”

“You’re bitter tonight mijo.”

On the tenth day of October at quarter past six in the evening with a perfect cool sunset on the desertsky and an autumn wind blowing through the valley she found herself in Burbank. Not the Burbank of Disney or Bob Barker, but of megalithic anchors of retail, of stucco and of red plastic letters with tower lights behind them. The firmament was matting over with a back lit green. She had never meant to go as far as Burbank. She had started out that afternoon as many others, her only destination the freeway. But she had driven the Golden State and up to Silver Lake and instead of turning back when she found herself lost on the surface streets of Glendale she kept driving.

She had driven to the beach early that morning, but there was oil scum on the sand and a red tide in the flaccid surf and mounds of kelp at the waterline. The kelp hummed with flies. The water lapped fetid grey, forceless. She sat in the car, languishing, parched, salt chapped, as though she were in the cabin of a creaking ship on the doldrums of a ghost tropic. The sun beat down with the intensity of a dreamt summer and the windows were adrift with the dusts of age. She watched the ocean searching for an eddy to draw her out to the horizon. When she left the Westside she drove aimlessly down Sunset through Beverly Hills, pulled into a gas station at the corner of La Brea, and, briefly flushed into purposefulness by a Coke, walked barefoot across the hot asphalt to a store window. She watched her face wrinkle and dry in the reflection of noon on the strip. She had eaten dinner nearby the night before all flushed then by grilled vegetables and her thighs stuck to the rich leather arm chairs. The darkness so pure she could make out the path of each individual filament in each lamp. The sun blazed a low contrast film here today, bright and dusky like a million tiny moons, but never warm.

As she stood there, poised before her own reflection, her intensity made her seem almost graceful. Yet her body was frozen in such an awkward posture that clearly had not been meant to last more than a few seconds. An intermediate movement, that now seemed in danger of lasting forever, if she could not find a pretext for ending it. She studied her posture with the fascination of a beguiled sculptor. She had remained there for an appreciable length of time, when a car lurched to the curb and startled her away from the looking glass.

She walked back to the car and sat a long while in the parking lot, idling the engine and preparing to drift east down Beverly to the chasms of the unearthly city. In the aftermath of the winds the air was dry, burning nervelessly, so clear that she could see ploughed furrows of firebreaks on distant mountains. Not even the highest palm moved. The stillness and clarity of the air seemed to rob everything of its perspective, the tall buildings emerging over the hills of Koreatown were skins flattened on the afternoon and seemed to alter all perception of depth, and she drove as if she were reconnoitering her body in an atmosphere without gravity. Del Tacos appeared, oil rockers creaked ominously.

Somewhere farther up the hill a bird began to sing. He was in the desert seventy miles south south west of Las Vegas. The strike of light from the apex of the Luxor pyramid on the southern end of ‘the strip’ burned across the desert sky. He listened to the bird. At first the low, rich music sounded like water dripping on something hollow, the bottom of a silver pot perhaps, then like a stick being dragged slowly over the string of a harp. He lay quietly, listening.

When the bird grew silent, he made an effort to put the city out of his mind and began to think about the sky on fire. He was alive in the city that was burning at high noon, the flames competing with the desert sun, less like a holocaust than a celebration of bright flags flying from roofs and windows. He wanted the city to have quite a gala air as it burned, to appear in a communal gaiety. The people who set the fire would be a holiday crowd, hallucinating in the landscape as it tottered on apocalypse.

She sat in her car parked at the curb in Culver City. There was an orange mackerel sky over the purple hue of taut space behind. She lay back in the seat and traced the top of the windshield across the sky. She looked as though she could feel the city whirling about her. Her eyes shuttered as if everything were abuzz and the equilibrium of the gentle windshield arc held her pinned in place. She shut her eyes. The buzz was now focused in her fingertips as the grog of blood swept into her consciousness. Her fingertips pulsed. She pressed them against her thighs and her head lapsed back to the left of the headrest. Then she clutched the leathery vinyl emergency brake. She stroked its inorganic surface. It was stable. When she opened her eyes several cars were parked around her, flanking her vehicle and leering emptily. She left the car and strode past them adjusting her skirt over her hips and watching the exhausted sky trace across the windshields.

When the days passed and he couldn’t forget her, he began to grow frightened. When he went to the deep desert weeks after he had last seen her, he desired warmth and coffee in the pitch blue globe of the night. He somehow knew that his only defense was chastity, that it served him, like the shell of a tortoise, as both spine and armour. Not chastity of the cloth, but a positioning of the thoughts in such a chaste sphere that the focus on the directional energy of life is inherent. He could not change its direction telekinetically, but he would come to terms with it. He could not shed this vow even in thought. If he did, he would be destroyed. He would ignite like a spark in a barn full of hay. He would take it all with him. He was right, so he remained motionless in his car or rigid and upright on the futon in his apartment. Same body in both locations.

He would sometimes rise to the window overlooking the street and lurk with the lights off, waiting for her or conjuring her. Whatever that bird was that sang at night in California would be bursting its heart in theatrical runs and quavers and the chill night air would smell of spice pink stucco. She would drive up perhaps, turn the motor off, look up at his window and to the stars, so that her breasts reared, then toss her head and sigh as if dismissing someone’s actions as childish. She was alone in the car. She would throw the ignition keys into her purse and snap it shut, then get out of the car. The step she took up the high curb would make her tight dress pull up so that an inch of glowing flesh would show above her black stocking. As he pressed carefully to the window, a sigh of his body, she would be pulling her dress down, smoothing it nicely over her hips. He would struggle to the futon. He would see her lift the dress up over her head. She would let it fall to the floor. It was a loose and summer billowing smock. To abate his desire to return to the window he had to do nothing but get into the car and drive destinationless eastward.

It was late December. The night was wrapping down across the desert and the sky was so clear that the street lights on Sunset burned across the sky like a solid vapor. He drove east but didn’t return to Culver City. At La Brea he turned north and bled over to Highland, out over Cahuenga Pass and down to Ventura Boulevard, past Studio City and Sherman Oaks and Encino, like a moonbeam, a flash. There was nothing lonely about driving in the dark. It was afternoon that sunk the spirit. He often said that driving at night was purifying. This road was a vigorous linear filter of his misgivings.

With him, the Korean college students in modified cars shot out in the traffic streams, just missing fenders by a sixteenth of an inch, but somehow always missing them. Tired men in dusty coupes and sedans winced and tightened their grip at the wheel and ploughed north and west toward home and dinner, an evening with the sports page, the blatting of the television, the whining of their spoiled valley children, and the gabble of their silly wives. He smiled as if his isolation was a deliverance from that life. He drove on past the gaudy neons and false fronts behind them, the sleazy massage spas that look like palaces under the colors, the circular path of the rotating highway sign over the sweaty greasy kitchens that would have poisoned a toad. Great trucks rumbled down over Sepulveda from Wilmington and San Pedro and crossed the Ridge Route, starting up in low gear from the traffic lights with a growl of lions in the zoo. With Encino in the memory an occasional light winked from the hills thick with desert growth. The homes of movies stars strewn across the oscillating horizon. Screen stars. He drove violently. Under his breath, “Hold it, you’re not human tonight.”

The air through the open window got cooler across his face. The night was white cold and clear in its desert hoary winter moonlight. The highway narrowed. The cars were so few now that the darkness was almost pure and the intermittent headlights hurt his eyes. The grade rose against chalk walls and at the top a breeze, unbroken from the ocean, danced casually across the night.

He ate dinner at a place near Thousand Oaks. Bad but quick. It was like submission. He didn’t even stay for a second cup of coffee because his energy was lagging without the car. It was unclear how the place was so busy. One could have done better at home out of a can. They were restless like him. They talked like they were scared not to be out in their car headed somewhere. But he wasn’t human that night.

He drove into the moonlight at the Oxnard cut-off and turned back along the ocean. The luminous sixteen and eighteen wheelers were streaming north in orange clouds of iron tinged night. On the right the great fat solid Pacific trudging into shore like a scrubwoman going home from a Westwood manor. The moon barely caught a ripple, no fuss; there was hardly even the sound of the surf. No smell. None of the harsh wild smell of the maritime sea romance. A California ocean. California, Southern California, the department store state. “The most of everything, the best of nothing,” he said to the dash. “Here we go again. You’re not human tonight.”

In the diner. “Maybe I never was nor ever will be. Maybe I’m ectoplasm with a driver’s license. Maybe we all get like this in the cold half-lit world where always the wrong thing happens and never the right.” He spoke. Malibu lay beneath glass. More movie stars. More pink and blue bathtubs. More tufted beds that weren’t filled with cat litter. More wind blown hair and tawny attitudes and pseudo-refined voices and waterfront morals backed up by deeds to waterfront lawns.

“Now wait a minute. Lots of nice people work in pictures. You’ve got the wrong attitude.”

“Well, I’m not human tonight.”

Real and false were fused here so perfectly that they became a new substance, just as copper and zinc become brass that looks like gold. It meant nothing to him that LA was filled with great musicians, poets and philosophers. It was also filled with spiritualists, religious nuts and swindlers. It devoured everyone, and whoever was unable to save himself in time, would lose his identity, whether he thought so himself or not.

His nose flared with Los Angeles before he even got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living room that had been closed too long. His living room smelled like a furniture store that had been out of business for decades. But the colored lights in the basin fooled the motorists. The lights were rich and fiery. Nothing outside of Bosch’s inferno had their protean rapture. There was a monument in the desert south south west of Las Vegas to the man who invented neon lights. It was fifteen stories high, unlit, solid marble.

Night. She came home, fled straight through the house to the kitchen and drank standing, immobilized. She took long swallows and felt the flavor taunt her mouth, her throat and rigid knees. Apparently none of the neighbors were at home so she could drink in silence. She slouched back through the house and sat on the red futon. She kept one light on. She did not own a television and did not turn on music. This was the silence she drove herself through the day for. She stared intently at the painting that was on the will eight feet in front of her. It was less a painting than a color swatch. It was a store-bought canvas filled with one color. Green. She stared as though she were trying to find things dancing in it, things she could hear by the way she turned, but eventually looked down, troubled. She stared blankly at her less enigmatic knees and finished her drink.

The night was white cold and clear in its desert hoary winter moonlight. Somehow the calendar permitted a third winter to permeate the year. He knew that moon. He made his way up the road from his car walking on the outer edge of the pavement, skirting the Russian discos overflowing into the street. He passed open doors, where the crowds were heaviest, and came to a full stop in every moonlit stretch of empty pavement. By the time he was able to cross the road, he was fighting the desire to run. He stopped for several minutes outside his destination to get his bearings. As he stood there, poised to enter and confront the interior world, his fear made him seem almost graceful. Yet his body was frozen in such an awkward posture that clearly had not been meant to last more than a few seconds. An intermediate movement, that now seemed in danger of lasting forever, if he could not find a pretext for ending it. He had remained there for an appreciable length of time, when a car lurched to the curb and startled him towards the entrance.

The delicatessen into which he turned was a large brilliantly lit place. All the fixtures were chromed and the floors and wall were lined with highly polished terrazzo. Colored fluorescent lights behind transparent images played on the counters, heightening the natural hues of the different foods and establishing a dining atmosphere close in its light quality to the sorting room of a post office.

He sat against a brown vinyl booth for four (4). He sat like stone, the way the city willed him, under the fluorescence. He pressed his feet unobstructed against the slick terrazzo inches from the opposite bench. He surveyed all the spaces between walls and appliances in the restaurant. Grey spaces that someone could possibly slip into. Spaces covered with soft dust and powdery warmth. The space at large was surprisingly cold. The whites and yellows low on the wall in his line of sight slowed the pulse of the air and he stared into his coffee. The drops of cream he had allotted to the drink were slowly coagulating. He chose not to stir them. His eyes scanned as though he were attempting to break through in a Brownian motion against his own stony stature. He chose not to. He watched as the sequence of stages unfolded before him. Each change in value of both cream and coffee, from brown to pale and back, solidified his distance from the unraveling unity before him. As part of an inexorable natural process, the cream warmed to the temperature of the coffee and began to lose its coherence. To stir would be to abort this process that physics and aesthetics had given him to savor. The cream would not reach a perfect uniformity in this manner, but the act of drinking a happenstance cup of coffee, however mediocre, would allow a slight satisfaction through its situational alignment. It was not as though anyone were watching.

Her migration was transient. Her routes had grown limitless. Every stop that she had stared into space across was now a part of her internal environment. She was reflective. The bounds groped up into the Antelope Valley and out to Signal Island. Limitless, a field, pointless. She happened upon that terrazzo cavern this night. It was around the close of the year. As if sensing that she was being watched, she turned her head slowly toward the dining room. The perfection, the assurance now of her movement made it immediately clear that she knew the location on which her gaze would soon come to rest. With a warm and savoring expression she looked away from him, calmly rotating her shoulders and neck back to gaze at the almost artificial stillness in the fluorescent plenum above our heads. It was brilliantly lit.