The Kindness of Strangers (in Public Bathrooms)

Two blow dryers, one next to each ear, each geared to its highest setting. That’s the first wave. Then the Morse code. She puts on clogs, which are really more like mallets for her feet. Once she’s in her clogs, she practices her vertical, soaring several feet in the air before landing back on the ground where she tries her best to stomp through our wooden floors. It’s as soothing as when your phone convulses with an Amber Alert.

Once she’s completed her clog-to-floor Morse code message, but before she leaves, she hovers over me to make sure I’m still pretending to be asleep. I am. She walks to the front door, opens it and then with all her strength, using two hands, she slams it as hard as she can. The frame of the house shakes, the windows next door rattle, a cat scaling our fence loses its balance as a wave of vibration rolls through our neighborhood, kicking up loose chunks of sidewalk and jolting the SmartCars and Mini Coopers between Riverside Drive and the 101.

Now that my cortisol levels are through the roof, it’s time meditate.

With expanded lungs and an open heart, I follow Sunset Boulevard from Silver Lake to Hollywood. I pull into a hospital across the street from one of the dozen Scientology Centers between Highland and Hillhurst. Inside the hospital, a woman sticks a needle in my arm. It’s full of poison. A small dose. They call this a flu shot. There may be pros and there may be cons, but like the samples at Costco, I’m not doing it because I’m particularly interested in an eighth of a chicken pesto wrap, I’m doing it because it’s free.

Before I leave, I slip into the bathroom. I’m walking with my head down, scrolling through Twitter, not registering anything: more sex offenders, more natural disasters, more school shootings and a Harold Pinter quote that I read three times and still can’t make sense of. That’s what I’m doing. I’m saying a Harold Pinter quote from a play I’ve never read in my head when I look up to see a guy, with what I guess you’d call a carbuncled face and hair like Don Draper, staring at me. He’s smiling. “Hey man.”

Remember, I’ve meditated. People say hi and I say hi back. Compassion, empathy, “I care about your pain, darling.” Some Buddhist teacher said that. I nod. He holds up a plastic bag with a small cup inside, “Would you mind?”

“I care about your suffering.” I don’t say that to him, but I think it. This is someone asking for help and I know how hard that can be. I take the cup in the plastic bag and walk to the stall. It’s locked. I think about waiting but he nods at the urinal. Sure.

While he stands behind me, I fill the plastic cup with remnants of hot water, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Fuck me if I’m not my guru’s follower. I walk over to the sink, wash my hands and pass the carbuncled Don Draper my urine. He takes it from me like he’s taken the urine of a thousand men before me, which makes me feel better because I was starting to feel weird about this whole thing.

He raises his eyebrows, doesn’t say thanks and walks out of the bathroom. But that’s okay. I don’t need to be thanked, because I care about his pain, right? His suffering? Though it’s starting to feel like my morning practice of compassion is wearing off. I’m starting to feel like, yes, I’m psyched I was able to pay it forward, I hope that if I ever need a stranger’s urine, someone will bail me out. But I’m also feeling like, How about a fucking thank you, Don?

Not for the first time, my medical provider declines to validate my parking. I trot to the structure, pay $54 for my 32 minutes visit. I’m on my way to work when it occurs to me that as well intentioned as I may have been, as pure of heart as I hope to be, I did have an edible Tuesday before I watched BladeRunner, so that guy is definitely going to fail his drug test.

But hey, purity of my urine aside, I still care about your suffering, darling.

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Soundbath Sociopath

ALTO

I’m told it makes me a monster. I stand and receive one of our soon-to-be depleted resources, carelessly letting it fall on and around me like it will last forever, and how do I celebrate this communion? With a quiet lather.

It’s something I don’t share with people. They either think I’m a sociopath or they simply don’t believe me. “Come on, when you’re alone and the pressure’s cranked and you’re feeling like a million bucks?”

“It’s never occurred to me.”

“Sure, bro. Sure.”

So I keep it to myself, this secret, the secret that I… I don’t sing in the shower.Don't Speak, I Know Just What You're....jpg

But the secrets don’t stop there. The Canadian man who leans into the small of my back pushing me deeper into pigeon pose tells me (and the rest of the room) that I’m deserving of love. After ninety minutes of paid instruction on how to follow my breath, I corner the Canuck.

“Yeah, so about that deserving of love thing—” He closes his eyes and nods his all knowing head. “So, am I still deserving of it if I set my Spotify to private so I can listen to Chief Keef and other sirens of misanthropic drill music while lifting weights in an effort to lift more and heavier weights so in this alleged “survival of the fittest” world I can readily beat the living shit out of my fellow man — even you — even though I respect you and all your slow breathing, it’s really helped me a ton. But you know, if it came down to it, I’m only listening to that stuff so I can prepare myself for the moment when I may have to crush not your um, spirit, but your actual skull. Am I still deserving of love?”

His eyes are kind and deep. Well, I don’t know about deep, they’re the size of marbles. So even though I can’t speak to their depth, they’re definitely kind. The man who fled the rule of Justin Trudeau says, “This is where your mind drifts, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s just an invitation to return to the present, to follow your breath back to the moment one inhalation,” he breathes in deeply, “and one exhalation.” He breathes out for what must be two full minutes. He reaches up and puts his little Canadian hand on my shoulder. “I’m actually doing a soundbath workshop on Saturday that deals with exactly what you’re talking about.”

“Really? Which part?”

“Well, it’s a full hour of yoga, so I’d say all of it. There’ll be steel drums and — you know what? Let me get you a flier. I have a feeling this one’s going to fill up fast.”DJ Soundbath.jpg

And my next secret? I ride two hundred miles into the desert on the back of a knock-off Asian Vespa to listen to steel drums bounce off the Rockies and our chakras. And in a way, my problems begin to resolve themselves.

We don’t shower, so there’s no longer any reason to feel shame about the thirty one years of quiet showers I took before I arrived here.

And there’s no wifi. I’ve gotten to a place (spiritually?) where I’m so paralyzed (free?) that I don’t know how to listen to music without wifi or at least a cell signal. Just like that, Chief Keef falls out of my life.

I’ve been reborn. I mean, I’ve only been out here for two hours, but just like the flexible Canuck promised, the soundbaths have healed me. I’m whole again.

Now I’m just throwing this out there but — is it a call for help if you find yourself screaming, “Om” in the middle of the California desert with a throng of Silver Lake moms who are all thirty-three and speak English with a British lilt even though they moved here when they were nine? Or… am I finally home?

With the palms of my hands together over my heart and my brain slowly leaking out of my ear, namaste.

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A Sample of the Red Flags that Made Me Realize I Desperately Need a Job

1.jpg-I was walking home from Trader Joe’s and I saw a group of people shuffling into a colorful building. It ended up being a guided meditation for gay addicts in recovery. It was hard to get a word in, but I decided to stay. I’ve been going twice a week since May.

-On June 3rd, I rode my bike twelve miles to get a taco because I couldn’t find my car keys.

-Nine hours ago, I was shirtless in my bedroom. I was also pantless. But I wasn’t thinking about my lack of shirt or pants, I was watching two flies buzz between my bedside lamp and a photo of myself wearing a suit on a mountain looking very lost.

I’ll spare you the gory details but in quick succession I killed both flies. One with a New Yorker[1] where I was reading about a divorced lesbian couple in Manhattan who were fighting each other for the right to raise Abush. According to the article, Abush is a six-year-old boy from Ethiopia.

Before I killed the fly, I had already decided that these presumably bored (read: loving) millionaires also needed jobs. Or more demanding jobs. Or they could adopt more children from Ethiopia. Or America. They needed to do something to keep Abush as far from the limelight as possible. And I say this as someone who grew up on the Central Coast where there were more kids named Forest than Bill.

But this isn’t about people named after and for shrubbery. Three months ago, I had killed one, maybe two flies in my life. In the last week, I’ve killed at least double that figure. We’re talking upwards of three flies. If I don’t find myself in an air conditioned building with free coffee and a desk with a phone I’ll never answer, I worry that I could kill as many as a half dozen flies before the year is even over. This troubles me.FullSizeRender.jpg

-Yesterday, I put my left foot on an escalator’s handrail, brought my head to my knee and had a nice long stretch for three floors in the Sunset Boulevard location of Kaiser Permanente.

-I went to the doctor for what I’ve heard called a “check up.” Nothing was wrong with me. I told the doctor that, but also said if he wanted to put his stethoscope on my back and listen to me breathe or whatever, he was welcome to do that. He looked at me like I was fucking insane, confirmed from a distance that, at least physically, I was fine and then told me that they didn’t validate parking for patients. My co-pay was $15. Parking in the structure for 53 minutes was $86.

-Since Sunday, I’ve spent nine hours in the sauna and two in the steam room and I fucking hate the steam room.

-I introduced myself to someone who I thought was my neighbor because I’ve seen him on and off for the last five years. He replied, “I’m carrying mace and as a member of the United States Postal Service I’d be within my rights if I used it on you right now.”

-I’ve started wearing sunscreen even though I once saw a poster in the nurse’s office in college with a teenage girl sporting a neon tank top and third degree sunburn. A blurb above her remorseful face read: 80% of skin damage occurs before the age of 18. I was 19 at the time and decided then and there I was never going to wear sunscreen again. The nurse told me that I definitely had alcohol poisoning but the worst was over and to be careful. She was so sincere that I felt one of us should cry. It was a relatively short game of chicken before she walked me out. I won’t say who left in tears because I’m a gentleman.

-I’ve watched both seasons of “All or Nothing” with the LA Rams and the Arizona Cardinals and I have no idea who won the Super Bowl last year.

-I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt from my high school (average class size: 107) and I almost introduced myself.

-On Wednesday around midnight, I got home from hockey and was greeted by two coyotes on the stairs leading up to my place. I thought, “Well, if I have to fight these ‘yotes to the death, so be it.” But then I remembered the flies I’d killed. Flies with fly families and fly children who probably stayed up at night wondering if their fly mother and father loved them and would ever come home; flies that can relate more to Jeff Goldblum than I can because I’ve never seen that movie.

As I stood there, my shoulder going numb from the weight of my hockey bag and my head full of Jeff Goldblum, which is exactly what that fucking guy would want, I saw the coyotes were long gone and while I might not have a job, I did still have four episodes of “The Keepers” waiting for me upstairs, and in this life, well, that’s more than enough.

[1] I signed up for a trial subscription seven years ago and I haven’t figured out how to cancel it. As a result, I’m wildly cultured.

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Vince Lombardi said the price of success is hard work. Señora Otay-Mesa said the price of a taco is $1.50. Take your pick.

I’m coasting down Eagle Rock Boulevard when I see a kid washing a window in a building where a Filipino man once wrapped his fingers around mine, pushed his hand into the small of my back and said, “Dance.”

We weren’t alone. A woman with wispy red hair that looked like it may have been borrowed from a doll stood in the corner. She, the red head, was a dancing queen. There were glamour shots on the wall to prove it. And the tinny CD player in the corner, the full body mirrors reflecting the fluorescent light, the hardwood floors which once served as a middle school basketball court – she built all of that. A dancing queen’s empire.

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I have nothing to do, so I turn left on York and as is my practice, I look for a coffee shop that isn’t so thriving that I’ll have to struggle to find a seat or listen to someone younger or older than me lament to their coffee date about their struggle. Admittedly, these are difficult criteria in Los Angeles, and maybe anywhere I speak the language of the midday café crowd. With my eyes failing me, I pull over to find a place on my phone. I’m scrolling when I hear my name.

“Dude! What’s up?!”

I can’t remember his name, but I know we went to college together, so I return the enthusiasm, “Dude! Long time!”

He’s extremely tan and has apparently been wearing the same hemp bracelet for 10 years. “What are you up to? Where are you working right now?”

“Nowhere at the moment,” I say. “I’m sort of on hiatus, just kind of hanging out.”

“So you don’t have a job.”

“Technically, no.”

He nods as if he’s just learned that a national treasure has died. Or that the Comanche language no longer has any native speakers. “How long have you been out of a J-O-B?”

“Oh, not long. Since March.”

“Jeez. Two months. Hey, this is kind of weird but, can I get you something to eat?”

I laugh it off. “No way, man.”

“Hey, there’s no need to be prideful. I mean, you’re riding a bike.”

It’s true. I am. “It’s a nice day!”

“No, it’s not.”

It’s true. It’s not. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t in a rush.”

“Because you don’t have a job. Let me at least buy you a burrito.”

I want this to stop, but I don’t know how to make it stop.

FullSizeRender.jpgMy Taco is a family place that makes a taco borrego that is something to behold. I won’t tell you where exactly My Taco is because I’m already upset with myself for taking a guy who I didn’t like even when I knew him a decade ago. But we all make mistakes. Our poor, misinformed and now uninsured voted for Trump. We’re all culpable.

We settle in and he asks, “So did you lose your car?”

“No, I just thought I’d get some exercise.”

“Don’t you think your odds of getting hit by like, a bus are higher than dying of obesity?”

He might have a point. “I’m also skating tonight so I’m trying to get the lactic acid out of my legs from my game last night.”

The woman from behind the counter takes our number and leaves us with a half dozen tacos. They’re not pretty, but that’s why I’m able to keep coming back. The masses haven’t moved in because these tacos aren’t photogenic. They’re just tacos. Delicious fucking tacos.

“How many hockey leagues are you in?”

“Three. My nights are pretty wide open.”

“And apparently so are your days.”

“Yeah, but it’s hard to find a good midday skate. Holy shit, how much does that lady look like Kellyanne Conway?”

He turns his attention to a skeletal woman rollerblading in the parking lot. At the minimum, she’s been awake for a week straight. My college pal says, “You’re playing a lot of hockey.” I nod, my mouth full of lamb barbacoa, and he says, “I don’t feel like I should pay for lunch. You’re not even trying to get a job. You’re just biking around pretending to be homeless.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Come on! That beard! Those Vans? There are literal holes in your shoes. Actual holes.”

“Well,” I shrug, “you already paid. Want me to Venmo you?”

“I feel bad. You don’t have a job.”

“I don’t mind paying for my tacos. They’re a $1.50.”

“It’s not about the money.”

“Okay, you lost me.”

He pushes his greasy orange plate to the middle of the table. “Well, can I give you a lift somewhere?”

“I’ve got my bike.”

“Dude! You’re got to stop bringing that up. It’s making me sad. Seriously depressed. Just get like a Ford Fiesta or something. They’re cheap. Get a fuckin’ Kia.”

“I have a car.”

“I keep forgetting that because you’ve got that… meth mobile.”

“A bicycle?”

“You’re just putting lipstick on a pitbull.”

As we clear our plates, I ask, “So, do you work over here?”

“No, the overhead’s too high. I’m going to open up shop in Cambodia. Maybe Laos. Super cheap labor. Great full moon parties. Fuck, I love full moon parties.”

“Open up shop doing what?”

“Whoa. Lot of hostility from a guy who’s basically homeless, begging people to buy him burritos and shit. By the way, this place is bomb. Definitely coming back.”

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The front door jingles and we step outside where the Cracked-Out Nancy Kerrigan is still doing pirouettes. He throws a leg over his pearl white Vespa. “Well, I hope you achieve your goal of becoming a professional hockey player or whatever you’re doing with your life.”

“That’s not really… Okay, thank you.”

“Hey, let’s do this again soon. I still have the same number.”

“Perfect. I definitely have all the numbers in my phone that I had in 2008.”

He revs his Honda Airblade, flashes me a toothy smile and pulls onto York Boulevard. But unfortunately for everyone driving east now and for the rest of the day, he’s sideswiped by an orange Metro bus. The bus brakes, but not before it first tramples over his scooter, then his body, and finally his head. Cars begin to honk. A few people get off the bus and go about their day.

I mount my 12 speed, look right, then left, then right again. The traffic has already started to build. I feel fortunate to be headed the other direction and in the bike lane no less. More importantly, it looks like I don’t have to worry about him telling anyone about My Taco. We’re left with so little that’s sacred in this world. But at least we have tacos. Yes, at least for now we have tacos.

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Finally Famous

 

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If you’re expecting me to change – I am too. I suspect it will happen any day now.

It just seems there’s no way a person who has had his webseries featured on countless (2) websites, which has garnered too many views to even keep track of (97,000[1]) could continue to also be a man who frequents the Cha Cha Lounge before 9 p.m. for a shot of mediocre tequila and a 61 degree PBR at the bargain price of $5.

It’s just not feasible.

“You may have heard of my webseries,” I say to a man wearing a mask blowing leaves from one driveway to another. “Driving Arizona.” He shuts off his leaf blower and politely waits for me to go away. Little does he know people who have reached a certain level of fame have nowhere they need to be. Mario Andretti, Mario Batalli, Mario Lemieux, myself – we’re all men with absolutely nothing to do tomorrow, but to wait for it to come and cradle us with its sunlight.

It comes up at the gym. “Nice shorts,” says a man who has dyed his beard an unintentional hue of purple. “Thanks. Little trivia – they were in the luggage belonging to the character Sasha in episode 4 of Driving Arizona.” He stares blankly. “No. You’re right. It was episode 3!”dazfacebook5

There was a time when all my Lyft drivers were deeply devoted students of improv. Now they are men and women from towns that I haven’t heard of north or east of Los Angeles, lured here on weekend nights by the promise of endless riches. Or at least the app tells them if they keep driving – after gas, wear and tear, and emotional fatigue – they might break even.

“Just start driving or finishing up?” A man who is too tall for his Toyota Yaris replies but I’m wondering why I didn’t give him a third option – the middle, halfway through his shift.

Though I haven’t heard a word he’s said, when he stops talking I say, “Speaking of which, you may have heard of a little web series I co-created – Driving Arizona.”

“Sounds like a PSA for a driving school.”

“But there’s something beautiful about the innocuousness of it, isn’t there? Like a puddle that pools after the rain and when you stare down at the wet cement, you’re met with a reflection of the sky.”

He runs his fingers across his phone’s screen. “Is it alright if I drop you off here?”

So maybe it isn’t me who has changed. It’s the way people react to a person who has created something as eternal as the webseries. Bertrand Russell once said or wrote or communicated in some way that he now gets credit for these words in this particular order, “The search for something permanent is one of the deepest instincts leading men to philosophy.”

Well, Berty. It leads other men to the webseries.

[1] Which is 10x fewer views than your average video of a guy demonstrating how to find the pilot light in your oven.

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Filed under De La Moda, Formal Correspondence, Staring Into A Cobalt Pool

Crying on the 134

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So far I’ve cried on the 134, the 5 and the 101 – twice. And that’s just in the last week. A friend texted me that he didn’t mind crying in public places when it’s in the name of celebrating someone’s life. I think I do mind, but I looked up on Yelp: “good bars to cry in.”

I don’t feel as if these tears are earned though and maybe that’s why I’m embarrassed when the person in the Prius chugging next to me sees me with tears falling from my face. I’m worried they’re thinking, “Come on, man. Do you really deserve to be crying? Did you earn those tears? Because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t your brother who died.” Or if they don’t look, and I’m just sitting there with tears falling into my lap, awestruck and disgusted, that these people have the nerve to talk happily on the phone or casually rap over Drake, or what I assume is Drake, with their windows up and their A/C blasting. What gives them the right to carry on completely unaffected?

So either they’re accusing me of not having the right to feel the way I do or I’m mad at them for not feeling the way I do.

Since my hands are on the wheel, the tears sit until they dry on my face. And for whatever reason, a dried tear doesn’t feel the way I expected it to. I didn’t think it would be any different from jumping out of the shower and not bothering to towel-off. But it’s more like when you get out of the ocean and let the sun do the work for you. The salt water cakes on your face, drying it out, leaving it feeling crunchy and somehow less agile.

I don’t have a lot of experience with tears. On my wedding day, I’m told all my groomsmen were balling, and I’m sure if I had seen my brother and my best friends tearing up, I would have been right there with them. But I was facing my wife and her stone-cold bridesmaids who knew better than to let their mascara bleed before the wedding party pictures.

There have been a handful of other times in the last fifteen years where I can remember crying. Each time someone had died. But more often, someone died and I didn’t cry. It didn’t feel earned. I was sad, but I didn’t feel right crying just because the circumstances were sad. I felt like something had to have been cut from me, specifically taken away from me, in order to justify the tears.

But on the 101, skirting passed Hollywood, I could feel myself on the verge of tears, where I have been for almost a week now, but nothing was cut from me. Something was taken from one of my closest friends, but I still question whether I was in the right to feel like I want to bury my head in the steering wheel and sob like a fucking four-year-old on the shoulder of the freeway.

So if anyone has any answers about when it’s okay to cry, I’d like to know. Really.

I think I perceive sadness as weakness and weakness as a vulnerability to getting hurt. If you’re not weak, you can’t get hurt. If you’re not sad, you can’t be labeled as weak, so in my distorted view of the world, the best way to not get hurt is to not be sad.

The only problem is that I am sad. I’ve been sad for as long as I can remember. And it’s not like something horrible happened to me. I was a sad fucking eight-year-old. This hasn’t changed, it’s not anyone’s fault, but I am aware of it and I think it makes me below average when it comes to grieving or even appropriately dealing with anything emotional.

Your average teenage apathy became my modus operandi. If I don’t care, then it won’t hurt when I fail. I don’t really care ergo I can’t get hurt if I do. So I’m afraid to get hurt, which also makes me afraid to care. This is all probably very obvious for everyone else, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around why I’m crying on the shoulder of the freeway, and why I’m ashamed that I’m crying because I don’t deserve to feel this pain to begin with.

So now not only am I ashamed that I’m crying, but I also think I’m an imposter to this grief. I don’t even deserve to feel as shitty as I do. Why can’t I listen to Drake with my windows up and my A/C blasting? Why can’t I call my brother and complain that I hate my job and I should quit because life is short, etc.?

But I did all that last week. And someone just died which even further solidifies this thing about life being short and that it doesn’t need to be a grind and that Anne Dillard quote that I repeat too often, but wish I had tattooed on my forearm, “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” Why is that so fucking massive to me? It seems so obvious yet every time I read it, it blows my fucking mind. Are you fucking kidding me? This day? This shit? These will be the pieces, which collectively make up my time on this earth? And I’m spending more than five minutes with people who I don’t love doing things I don’t enjoy?

Well, that’s wrong. I mean, if that’s what’s happening and my time is limited, why am I worried about whether a stranger thinks my grieving is earned? Fuck them. Seriously. Fuck them. But they don’t even care. They’re in their own bubbles too… and now it seems I’ve gotten off track. We’re talking about crying.

People say it’s a healthy thing to do. Why do you have to hurt before you can do it? Isn’t there a way to do it without the hurt? Probably not. I guess you do have to earn it.

A police officer is knocking on my window. I guess I need to carry on with what I was doing. Surrounding myself with people who I love, doing what makes me happy. But first, I guess I’ll let myself cry.

 

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Filed under De La Moda, Staring Into A Cobalt Pool

The Profound Effects of Losing an Arm Wrestling Match

My Lyft driver drops me off in a part of the Arts District that has apparently yet to be reclaimed. The door to the industrial building is unlocked. Inside, the lights flicker over the empty hallways and I don’t feel especially safe. But I’ve got my eyes trained on my phone, giving my driver who got lost twice and spent the whole ride complaining about people who complain about gentrification, five stars.

When I push through the door of #4, my friend who lives in Santa Monica but never seems to be there says, “You didn’t run into those pit bulls did you? I should’ve told you about the pit bulls.” I did not. He seems relieved and pours me a drink.

roof 2.jpgBecause no one can resist a rooftop after a few drinks, we crawl through a window and onto the roof. We peer through sky lights and hope to catch people in their most intimate moments: shadow boxing with the mirror, singing Frank Ocean to their pugs, eating kimchi in front of an open fridge while Ira Glass’s voice emanates from their phone. We peer into twelve living rooms and even a couple retail spaces. A few TVs are on, half-drunk glasses are sprawled across long dining room tables, laptops are open to email accounts, but no one is home. It’s midnight.

I stand at the edge of the building and wonder why I’m not feeling that thing we’re all supposed to feel when standing on the edge – the desire to jump. I think it’s because we’re not up high enough. Only four stories or so. You’d be lucky if you belly flopped and died. I set a bottle of Modelo on the lip of the building. If I was younger or drunker I’d toss it into the middle of the empty street but I don’t have the desire to do that either.

It’s FYF weekend and a steady stream of the artists playing tomorrow are being cycled through the loft’s speakers. We talk about Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast and Joachim Trier’s editor and the Spanish repatriation of Sephardic Jews. There’s a moment where we quietly wish our ancestors had been booted from Spain five hundred years ago so we could spend our summers on Mallorca and not worry about leaving the Schengen Area after ninety days.

This might be the first time I’ve been at a party in a loft downtown where everyone isn’t doing coke. I mean, there’s coke here, but it’s all very discreet. A conversation about its source, an apology about coming up short on a few other pharmaceuticals for tomorrow’s festival, a confirmation of a Venmo payment received. I remember when people used to buy drugs with cash. Still, the party is very grown up. That is until someone mentions arm wrestling.

The last time I laid elbows and locked thumbs would have been the Carmel Middle School cafeteria. But really what we did there was play that game with quarters where we bloodied our knuckles. We did that and sat around waiting to be old enough to drive a car and tell everyone to fuck off.

I learned to drive a car, but I never got around to telling anyone, let alone everyone, to fuck off.

I lock hands with my friend – the one who has his mail sent to Santa Monica – and to be honest, I expect to win. It’s a delusion that I have. I always expect to win. I’m not talking about winning Jeopardy or checkers, I mean two men doing anything physical where only one can win. So I’m surprised when I put everything I have into it and I lose. Twice – left and right arms.

We shoot some more tequila. I talk to a guy who’s dedicated his life to working in the gardens at some monastery in the middle of Koreatown. For a moment, it seems like he might try to recruit me into the brotherhood of dudes who like to meditate and don’t mind carrying stones. I’m making up the part about stones, but the garden is real. Monks love gardens and beer, and I am perfectly fine with gardens and more than willing to drink beer. He doesn’t recruit me.

I show a girl from Dubai a picture of my family. I eat two slices of margherita pizza. I realize my shoulder is killing me, grab another Modelo and another slice of pizza and stumble out into the street.IMG_1723.JPG

Unless you’ve lost an arm wrestling match on the bar of a loft in the 30th year of your life, you don’t know my pain. And this particular pain runs deep. Or at least deep enough to send me to the gym on a Saturday. Like Rocky summiting the stairs in Philadelphia, I arrive ready for the workout of a lifetime: blood, sweat, torn calluses – but alas, I’ve forgotten my headphones – so I just trot down to the sauna instead.

It’s the usual crowd: an Asian dude in his sixties, four Armenians guys in the their twenties who may have just walked in off the basketball court and an older Armenian guy who I imagine spends his days in a track suit when he’s not nearly naked in a wooden box full of men. Pretty soon it’s just the two of us – me and the older Armenian guy – and I’m reaching the fourteenth of the fifteen minutes I had planned to be in there, when he says, “Do you like to have fun?”

“Not especially. I mean, I will, but I don’t seek it out the way I used to. I don’t have the energy for it.”

“Funny. I like that, and because I like you, I want to let you in on something.” He reaches into the pocket of his red Ralph Lauren swim trunks and pulls out a business card. It’s black and wet with what I hope is just the condensation in this sauna and not his sweat. He hands me the limp card and winks.

It takes both of my hands to hold it up flat so I can read the words: V.I.P. Companions. There’s a 1-800 number and the promise of discretion for “gentlemen who seek the companionship of beautiful, interesting and quiet women.” I hold onto the card for longer than I mean to because I’m imagining a harem of mute women. Dozens of non-speaking models. How do they find and enlist all these beautiful mute women? I’ve never met a person who didn’t speak – are they notoriously attractive?

“Very discreet.”

“I appreciate it but I’m—” I point to a ring that isn’t on my finger because I left it in my car when I was still under the impression I was going to lift weights today.

“Married men can have fun too.”

“Right, but you may recall my stance on fun – I’m not really seeking it, generally speaking.”

“Lots of nice parties.”

I massage my shoulder, remembering the defeat of last night’s party. I can’t take any more parties. I’m retired from fun. I try to hand the card back again but at this point it should really just be thrown away. The black sheen is now stuck to my fingers. It looks more like leftover squid ink pasta than a business card. I put the crumbling remains in my pocket.

“You deserve to be happy, my friend.” With that, he stands, winks and walks out. I’m on the verge of passing out as I enter the thirtieth minute of my time in the sauna, so I’m only able to give him about a fifteen second head start.

Then we meet up again in the locker room, shower side-by-side because we have to, and he doesn’t say a word to me. But he winks again. I don’t know what’s worse: losing an arm wrestling match, having a card for an escort service in my pocket or being repeatedly winked at, but here I am, taking it all on the chin.

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