Chapter 1: Los Angeles – Wallow In The Mire
Three minutes ago Walker was doing key bumps on the side of a rented, classic Hollywood estate, in Laurel Canyon. It’s just after four a.m. and he’s standing in the middle of a dance party in Somebody Famous’ living room. Everyone is wearing bowties or formal gowns and masks. Mardi Gras masks, Halloween masks, one twenty-something male wears an astronauts helmet and a scarf around his neck for support. Another guest, whose age is unknown, but sex is certain, wears a neon ski masks, but no pants as he dances under flickering fluorescent light. To Walker, it feels like that movie Eyes Wide Shut. Only tonight, or this morning really, the crowd isn’t quite as polished, there aren’t any Australian actresses and the drugs aren’t nearly as rampant, excluding him, of course.
The DJ on the second floor stares into a computer and comes up every couple minutes to throw his hands up in the air. Before Walker’s first line that night he joked with a couple friends about his fear of coming down. Walker and company sat around in the apartment’s only heated room delaying the inevitable. It was a half an hour or so until midnight. All three had woken up within the hour for this party and convened at Walker’s. It was his idea.
It’s not that Los Angeles is cold; it’s not, not even in late February, but blood thins faster than it thickens. Everyone in the room is intimately familiar with thinning blood: alcohol, opiates, amphetamines, prolonged desert stints, the lists goes on. Not to mention the three months of stagnate, hundred-plus degree days of sitting around, waiting to get off work to cool down. To swim to the bottom of a shallow swimming pool and wait for summer to end. Anyway, no one knows, at least not in this threesome how to thicken blood, so on this sixty-one degree night, they sat a few feet a way from a wall heater and waited for it to kick in.
Walker stares up at the DJ wondering what drives someone to want to jockey Serrato on a MacBook. Music is white noise at most, behind all the watching, staring, posing and smiling when you’ve finally been caught. But first there’s watching. The way lips moved, the way bodies hung or slouched or pulsated. The way people waited for bodies to come towards them touch them, kiss them and left them to refresh their noses, lips or lungs.
Walker feels a hand on his chest and looks down at it. He follows the vascular extremity to a thin wrist that led to an arm, which connects to the heart of an androgynous dancer. Walker becomes quietly upset. Or rather concerned she or he could tell how fast his heart is beating and how dire, physically, he actually is. Inherently, Walker feels if he or she felt what he feels, he probably looks like that war vet with no legs who he sees everyday at the last stoplight before he gets to work.
The vet is always waiting, smiling, without any fucking legs and all he wants is one of the eleven quarters that is sitting in Walker’s center console and Walker feels so bad that he can’t even bring himself to look at the guy, let alone give him a quarter because Walker knows that he’ll start crying if he gets any closer than where the vet is and where Walker sits with his window up. But he always drives past and a hundred meters later, traveling at thirty-five miles per hour he’s already completely forgotten the Vet existed. And he won’t think of him again, not once, until the next day when he has to see him again.
The hand, which belonged to a rather androgynous creature, pulls Walker’s shirt, nearly yanking him from where he stood. His legs were already wobbly, to the point where he was scared to move them for fear of exerting too much, but also afraid to not move them enough to keep time with an impossibly fast beat and also to prevent cramping.
The voice, which belongs to the androgynous hand, breathes hot, caustic air into Walker’s ear. “You should dance with us. We dance platonically.” She or he, talks like a robot, Walker thinks. The hand, then the body of the androgynous dancer retreats in what Walker feels is just in time. Walker looks down and thinks he can see his heart protruding past his ribcage. He wonders if other people have noticed.
His heart, it’s not palpitating with any consistent rhythm. It feels like a drum solo in the height of the Post-Punk, Hardcore Movement that once ruled South L.A. It’s at some house party in a neighborhood that used to be white and suburban in 1981, but thirty years later is a low-income, largely Hispanic barrio. Back in 1981, the drum solo could last thirty more seconds or thirty more minutes depending on the crowd, the drummer’s health (was he straight-edge or hopped up on homemade speed?) and whether he actually had the will to keep going or just wants to say fuck it. Walker prays his heart doesn’t say fuck it, all other elements on his side. The party has yet to crescendo, he’s the most lethargic thing in the room and the room is most definitely not a minority-stricken slum, in fact everyone keeps talking about Connecticut.
This is a good thing. What’s not a good thing is Walker’s eyes have glassed over. Colors and shapes sliver in front and around him. He knows what would happen if he collapses. Everyone knows, it’s a story as old as Damascus or Aleppo, it’s as old as time. Collapsing between masked Connecticutians high on electronica and aesthetics somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, Walker knows could only mean one thing. He would probably convulse on the floor, getting stomped in time with the beat by Christian Louboutin pumps until he was within an inch of death.
Finally, when the dancing did stop, Somebody Famous or whoever is in charge of taking out Somebody Famous’ trash would discover him, a bloodied mess curled in the fetal position on the floor. A goon would be called by somebody on Somebody Famous’ payroll and given simple instructions: Take the body and dump it outside of a Kaiser Permanente hospital. The goon, being a subcontracted and not prescreened by Somebody Famous wouldn’t have any idea where said hospital was and would instead drive Walker’s barely breathing and bloodied corpse to Los Angeles’ Skid Row. On Skid Row, which needs no introduction to anyone with a penchant for afterhours and warehouse parties, can be slightly intimidating to say the least. On the Nickel, as it’s colloquially known, Walker would be bludgeoned, raped, and generally defiled until finally, his tormenters, having worked up an appetite, would spit-roast and eat him with never refrigerated tartar sauce. Rotten fucking tartar sauce.
Walker couldn’t let that happen. He takes a deep breath. Somehow his body has been moving this whole time and it has taken a toll. Across the room, he spots a velvet-upholstered chair. Between masks, dresses, Dixie cups and bottles of wine, Walker is locked-in on the shimmering, velvet chair. He feels a sudden burst of energy — he knows it can’t last. Walker decides what he has to do is take this energy and walk out of the house, then the gated yard, then on to the street where he will hail a cab. That is, assuming that cabs are roaming the Hills at four-thirty in the morning on a Monday or was it Tuesday? Anyway, once he got in the cab Walker would sit with his head up, paying close attention, focused, watching the meter run up to stay awake. Then he would arrive at his home, crawl into bed and vow never to do anything after dark, ever again.
The chair, velvet and solitary, hasn’t moved, which was a good thing, but neither has Walker. The chair showed itself first so it was Walker’s turn. One foot in front of the other wouldn’t do. The crowd is hovered, amalgamated, and impenetrable. Walker shuffled along the outskirts of the room. It took fourteen individual shuffles. He squeezed and narrowly missed sports coats with patched elbows and chemically treated tuxedo shoulders. Well-moisturized hair brushed against him. He was almost there. Pallid, bare and probably Connecticutian skin, the softest he had ever felt or at least seen and not felt, tried to lure him and failed. He never took his eyes off the chair. When he arrives, Walker puts his hand on the arm of the chair. It’s well structured, comfortable and reliable. Walker realizes that his body, in its coke-deprived state, might recognize the chair with all its comfort and support for a safe haven, as place to crash. If he gives in and sits down, his body might collapse and be unreachable for hours. Walker’s hand has climbed up his body and touched his chin; his fingers catch a bead of sweat from his brow, then another.
Walker didn’t sit down because he couldn’t. He now knows full well the potential consequences: Skid Row Skewer. Another possibility occurred to him, he could fight back. Yes, he had been retreating since the second he took his last bump, but that didn’t mean he had to give in and just quit. He didn’t have to go out that way. He could buy another twenty bag. He could walk upstairs, and get another twenty bag from the guy upstairs who’s not wearing a mask that keeps talking at the DJ. He could take the bag, patiently wait in line to use the closest bathroom then in maybe four or six dense lines he could give himself the necessary edge to not be a victim. That’s what life is all about, right? Not being a victim. Being proactive. Fighting for your best interest. In one brief bathroom stint, Walker could do all that cocaine and fight back. He wouldn’t even stay at the party. He would just run home, rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen here. Walker could do it on his own terms, in his own apartment with his own music. All he has to do is get upstairs.