For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, you’ll recall that the nominal purpose of this blog is to write about my somewhat unorthodox move from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, CA. More than a year has gone by but your loyal scribe has not returned back to the motherland – the U.S. Capital – until just this week. So here’s the gig.
Washington, D.C. is a college town gone global. It’s exactly what Los Angeles isn’t: clean, orderly, compact, and planned. At its best, it’s timeless: the neoclassic architecture, the marble columns, and the pomp of democracy. At its worst, it’s boring; just a theme park for lawyers and government workers who turn over every time the White House changes. There’s no edge, there’s no style, and without Brooks Brothers, the whole city would be naked.
When you land there, you immediately notice the skyline, or its lack of one, because Washington is a hive of stubby buildings. Like five, maybe ten stories each and that’s approximately the same density as your memories here. Your recollections are multi-layered and they change every time you cross the street. From the moment you arrive, it’s hard to live in the present because the past is everywhere, right from the start on
Connecticut Ave and Calvert St NW
Where your adventure begins at the Open City Cafe. You meet Lindsay there who sort of lives in the space of friend/role model. You walk in and the first thing you notice is the room full of eyes. More specifically, you see a room full of eyes that are not interested in you. This is exceptional because Southern California is a place where you can feel yourself being dissected in every room. Every stranger seems concerned with the next: is he rich? Is he pretty? Does he have style? This is the most tangible outgrowth of Hollywood’s deep insecurity – a dark obsession with youth and beauty that spills over into greed.
No one in Open City bothers to size you up. Instead, people mind their business, sipping their coffees in pleated khakis while they fret over the Times editorial page. Your memory slips back to the last time you came here, it began at the
Woodley Park Metro Station in December 2011
Right up the road by the Park Wardman Hotel where you waited at the top of a subway escalator for a girl you hoped you’d be able to recognize. You met Sam at a mansion in Georgetown where AJ smoked a joint with a Cabinet official and JC slept underneath a fern as midnight jumped to 4 AM. You got her number in the coat room, really just the basement, and above you was the dance floor that was jumping and squealing like an earthquake. Now, a week later, you wait at the top of the escalator in the cold December air. Faces you’ve never seen parade upwards from the dark, flowing around you like a rock in a stream. You pull your overcoat in for warmth, remembering the coattail you ripped on the subway and how the girls in your office helped you mend it this morning in the
Cannon Building – U.S. Capitol
Locus of the land of marble and crystal chandeliers. You mended your coat in a Congressman’s office while he was off at committee, talking about something you can’t remember now; something not as funny as the joke of learning to sow in this exceptional spot.
It is the present now in
When you walk into your old office there in the Capitol, the same place where you stitched your coat three years ago. It’s your first time back since leaving and there is an odd symmetry to your arrival, ten minutes late, as you tended to be when you worked there.
Your visit is relieving in so many ways. To begin with, there was never a day you didn’t love the company you kept on the Congressman’s staff. Few 25 year olds were ever given as much trust as you had. You spent years calling all the most interesting people in the world to talk about all the most complicated problems on it. No one ever stood in your way.
But now you’re back and your happiness to see old friends meets a relief that you left them. Yes, it was hard but as you walk through the marble halls and squint at all the chandeliers and government trim, you remember the existential boredom you felt here too. To you, the Capitol doesn’t look beautiful so much as bureaucratic; and though your life is a social, financial, and emotional a mess in California, you feel a hundred pounds lighter now that you have left this place that you know you didn’t belong.
You say goodbye, looking out the window, and remembering the pale winter light that you would have seen on a Friday afternoon. You remember racing it home on the slow workdays when you’d sneak out early and put on your running clothes, sometimes even a hat and gloves, and go down to
K Street in the winter of 2013
Where by some geological paradox, the sunlight never really left the northern side of the street. You’d run quickly down that narrow band of light, churning your legs to capture the last warmth of a winter day. You passed under the Plexiglass lawfirms that sent out their SWAT teams to lobby your kind on the Hill and you made a game of dodging between the Burberry overcoats and Louis Vuitton laptop bags who shared your sunny path.
Your romp ended when the sun ended, that being every city’s first sunset: the one where the sun drops below the buildings, too low to offer anything but shade in its last hour of light, just as it is now on
K St and Connecticut Ave in October 2014
Where JC and Tobin laugh on the street corner. They’ve had a few drinks, the kind that makes old friends, like new lovers, remember why they like each other, and they’re the only thing here that isn’t on the move. There are taxis, buses, and trains that fill the air with the break-squeaking, engine-purring hum of a big town and there are people walking up the avenue towards the subway. As the sky darkens and the wind bites, they zip their jackets and shrug their shoulders to consolidate the warmth they now need.
JC doesn’t notice any of this because he’s too busy smiling from behind his Wayfarers to care. That’s basically why you’ve missed him so much since you left. He’s your tether to yesterday’s reality, your best friend, and possibly the most fun person on the planet. You helped him get an unpaid job in the Capitol when the legal market cratered a few years back but now he’s riding high, wearing clothes you avoid at Nordstrom’s for the same reason you don’t even bother buying drinks for girls who drive Porsches. You walk with him and Tobin towards Shake Shack where Tobin is picking up heavy eats for his pregnant wife, Mo, a girl you met at
16th and T Street in the Summer of 2009.
Mo was celebrating her 24th birthday and wearing a blue dress. You didn’t know it at the time but a lot of your best friends were waiting for you inside her apartment, people you’d never seen or heard of. In two years time, you’d live there when she moved out to marry Tobin.
On that night, you and Mo talked about the pompous stuff that people right out of college are drawn to: stuffy literature, history, and politics. It was elitist and douchey but Mo did it with a sense of humor that made it all natural, unstitled even. No, you didn’t fall in love but off of that night on T Street you always felt as if you met her for a purpose. And if Mo was one thing, it was purposeful. All of that came to a head six months later at
18th and Kalorama
During the first of that winter’s blizzards; or as they said later, Snowpocalypse I. It was night in the city and the whole place glowed like the moon. Streetlights reflected white off hip-deep snow, casting shadows behind the elephant-sized drifts that were really just cars buried under powder.
You were with a girl named Lyn and her friends. They were nurses at the hospital, fresh from school like you, and laughing hysterically after hours of snowday bar specials. You waddled through the powder together but you messed up, slipping and falling into a drift that you carried Lyn into. You pretended it was an accident but enjoyed the thump of her body tumbling onto yours. It was wonderful to feel a girl breathing on top of you, even through the buttons of her coat, her voice distorted, vibrating through all the fabric and the snow between you. She laughed and was slow to get up as you tripped over each other again and again.
At the end of the walk was her train and at the end of yours, your apartment, where Tobin was sleeping on JC’s couch. The next day, the perfect storm outside married the perfect storm inside when Mo walked to your place, her motivation: boredom. She met Tobin there for the first time, no shower, no toothbrush, lots of hangover, and in your overheated living room, they fell in love. And now in the present, you find yourself in their hotel room at the
With JC in tow. It’s the type of place that was probably designed and furnished by some “Nordic Posh” periodical: filled with furniture that’s pleasant to look at but unpleasant to sit in, the sort of minimalism that sacrifices comfort but makes for a good Instagramm. Still, it’s a symbol. Five years ago, none of you could afford the bar downstairs. Now, this is the hotel that all your Washington ex-pats choose for the weekend’s main event: the marriage of Bill and T.
And that’s about when AJ walks in, fresh off a train from New York. He’s always late but 24 hours is a new record. That’s okay though because the law of supply and demand is applicable to friendship too and it is a statement of fact that with your lives spread out between New York, LA, DC, and Chicago, you are chronically undersupplied with each other’s company. Ergo, you’ll take time with AJ however you can get it, so you do what you always do and crack a beer with him while Mo sits on the bed and JC and Tobin dress themselves. When they finish, the small talk shifts towards work and you notice something different. Your friends are all lawyers and years of practice haven’t pushed you apart so much as drawn them together. You have nothing substantive to say about billable hours, client travel, depositions, or document review. And darker still, your own life choices have put you off the map because moving to Hollywood – following your heart – has cost you your soul because you are broke, entirely fucking broke. The nest egg you used to have for steak dinners and weekends in New York now belongs to auto mechanics, bartenders, and landlords in Los Angeles, where you toiled for five months without steady employment. Your newfound poverty couldn’t have come at a worse time, as your friends hit their top wages while you quibble with your conscience over the economics of packing lunch or buying it.
This is a problem you’ve chosen to ignore, at least for the weekend while you celebrate Bill and T. And in the morning, you let JC and AJ talk you into another indulgence at
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace – 14TH and Q Street
A haute soul food on the Chesapeake spot. It looks like a million-dollar surf shack and if your 8th grade teacher had told you that Picasso had gone through a driftwood phase, you would have believed that all his mangy wooden sculptures were consolidated in this place.
You are amazed at how easy it is to get a table for brunch because you remember it being hot in here, always hot with the bodies packed in so tight. Good dining has powerful energy and this was a place where people were stacked-up on the street while waiters inside turned their shoulders to edge around tables squeezed together like KFC chicken coups.
Not so today. It’s quiet inside and as noon roles over to one o’clock you get the feeling that it’s a sign of the times. That you aren’t the only thing that’s changed; that places change too. The heart of Sunday morning has moved on to somewhere else while you, JC, AJ, and JC’s Gal eat inside your own best memories here at Pearl Dive. You realize it’s just science that things change and you take an inventory of events: JC has a girl and AJ has a new job. It’s amazing how love and money can change people. Not in a bad way, in a good way. Increased confidence. Ease. Poise. All adjectives you feel in their presence. Descriptions that your Hollywood insecurity has taken from you as you wallow in a chapter of life that feels like walking across hot coals on a good day and standing on top of them on a bad one. Maybe you should have just sold car insurance after all.
Things seemed simpler before. There was comedy in this place and maybe some heartbreak too. You were 26 at midnight on the Fourth of July, at the bar upstairs called
AJ was trapped against the wall by a girl that he didn’t necessarily hate (you know a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend) while JC made the room laugh with pulsing hips that told the story of what she had in mind. Back then it was funny. Back then there was always the next morning when you’d meet AJ early at the
Perregrine Coffee Shop
The place where you discovered your mutual love for conversations about nothing. In those days JC preferred anything but stupid banter. He’d sit on the couch and watch the Shakeweight Infomercial before he’d spend the morning on a vision quest with you and AJ and that was fine, because every friendship needed its fabric, and circular conversation was what you and AJ shared. You’d walk and talk, carrying on the same conversation for years, as you find yourself doing now, in the present, at the corner of
14th and T St
Where brunch has ended and you’re stuck with the weekend’s last task: saying goodbye. That’s never the best part of a trip and it always does the opposite of what you want it to do – it speeds things up. That’s what you’re feeling as your heartbeat quickens like you’re about to miss your flight or attempt to wrestle a gorilla. This is your body trying to do what it can’t, and that’s slow down time.
Why does everything have to go so quickly? The wind blows and you hear the noise of dry leaves scratching the sidewalk, moving in red and yellow circles as the air pushes them here and there without any clear purpose. You want to hold it all in. You want to see the faces walking opposite: the Brooks Brothers bros in matching Ray Bans and the yoga chicks that are heading the other way. You want to remember them and know them and find out if they’re the cute girl from 2012 or maybe your friend’s cousin from Boston.
You want to see it and hear it and replay it but there isn’t enough time to do it all. It’s emotional triage and it makes you impatient, angry even that you are being forced to say goodbye. How can you possibly take it all in? The colors, the sky, the highrises that used to be cafes, the cold wind that’s nipping inside your blazer and at the back of your neck? The wind blows harder and you find yourself under attacked from falling leaves. They hit the ground and scurry like bugs.
“Tag!” one says as it bounces off your lapel and you smile for a second, wondering if you’ve cracked the riddle of what it means to come of age. Could this be it? Is it so simple? That adulthood is just what happens when you surrender beauty to responsibility?
“So I guess this is just it?” AJ says. He’s being metaphysical. Metaphysical and a little uneasy with where life is now, where everything is so different.
“Yes,” you say, as you hail a cab.
And like that, your homecoming is over. JC, AJ, and JC’s Gal watch while you drive away, waving at you from the sidewalk like your grandparents used to do back home. It feels a little like family and when your car breaks for the pedestrians in the crosswalk, you begin to understand AJ’s angst. He is concerned with the story, the one that we all write about ourselves. You drive out of the city under the canopy of red and yellow wandering what yours is. Exactly what chapter of this book is the present? The good part? The bad part? The boring part? Will the editor toss it in the trash or is it indeed the great adventure you’ve set out for?
This is not the time for clarity though. This is the time for forward. Forward three thousand miles to
LAX– Nighttime – October 2014
Where your journey ends.
* * *
In the airport there is a metaphor for Southern California, and maybe life too. Things are crowded and disorganized. They make no sense. And yet, this is forgivable in the softness of Pacific night.
There is hindsight’s clarity in the northeastern fall. The way that light shines so precisely in dry, cold air. Not so in LA, where the mist blows in from the ocean, warping the glow of the city at night. It’s a continuous blur that begins at the breaker and goes on to the desert – that inhospitable expanse that separates you from the world you know.
Palm trees hang in the dark sky, swaying above the boulevards that take you home. Underneath them is reality and beyond them, the future. You look at their leaves, blowing like tinsel in the wind, and follow them towards a destination unseen.