Rolling Stone once dubbed Joni Mitchell the Queen of El Lay, in a somewhat sexist jab at her legendary sexual conquests in 1960s California. This actually has nothing with what I’m going to write about, but it’s the first thought I had when I came to out of my Xanax coma in a hotel in LA. El Lay.
I wish I had a cool story about a night of debauchery and first-hand gonzo journalism during my first visit to the City of Angels, but the truth is, if someone had given me the choice between flying on a plane or cutting off an arm, I would have asked which arm they preferred. My wife’s brother lives in Los Angeles, and ever since he had announced his engagement two years ago, I was dreading the flight to his wedding.
It’s not so much a fear of flying as it is a fear of rapidly plunging from the sky while being trapped in a narrow tube with everyone screaming, which is actually one of the more mundane thoughts I have. The thoughts are usually more challenging, a labyrinth that self-constructs as you walk through it, telling you not to touch certain objects or to do things in a particular way in order to lower the volume of the plunging people screaming.
So what — I’m insane — yo, people, I made that ELEVEN HOURS ROUNDTRIP OF FLYING, with a three year old boy, a one year old baby, and the help of pharmaceutical Jesus. (And of course, my wife, and her parents.) I am really proud of myself.
I had told the psychiatrist I wanted a dosage that would make me black out. I’d said it dryly, with just a slight sarcasm so that she might laugh, the way I tell most of my jokes. But as they do, the psychiatrist took me at blank face value and gave me directions on how to responsibly black myself out.
I have the type of body that handles things. I don’t burn bright red in the sun. I eat spicy food and venomous hot sauces, and it just tastes like a shrug to me. I’ve been tattooed and pierced multiple times; it didn’t hurt. I can handle alcohol without acting stupid. I’ve never gotten a migraine in my life. I don’t even know what an ice cream headache feels like. I’ve never been stung by a jellyfish. One time a bee flew into my forehead and stung me, and I felt a little disappointed that a bee sting wasn’t more painful. Ya’ll see that movie in the 1990s where Macauley Culkin gets stung by a billion ass bees and dies? My Girl. That’s my reference point.
After one milligram of Xanax, I found myself enjoying the airport. There’s stuff here. There’s shops full of stupid crap, and there’s fast food restaurants with abridged menus. It combines three of my favorite things — wandering, looking at useless knick knacks, and mentally comparing the items from the abridged menus to their full menus which I know like old friends.
There’s people watching! There’s shoe shining! There’s smoothie bars! I gleefully ordered a strawberry one, a mango one, and a Caribbean medley one. I offered my wife and son first choices, and they each picked my top two. I didn’t even care. I sucked down my strawberry smoothie and thought I might become a traveler. There’s a sense of movement that feels contagious. The airport. It’s kind of fun!
But then I’d look out those wall-sized windows and see the planes, and I’d start to hear the screaming again. I popped two more pills before getting on the plane. I was now up to three milligrams and though I am not a drug person, I was high as shit. I enjoyed the plane ride. A wonderful lady came by with snacks, and said to take as many as I wanted because the ride was very long. I took a small bag of Fritos, which joined my pre-packed snack comrades, Pop Tarts and Pizzaria Combos, and together they felt like the Super Friends of Snacks. Wonderful Lady also brought me the most delicious Diet Cokes I have ever had, as though they were poured from the fountain of heaven.
Nearby I had the vague sense that my wife was struggling to keep our three-year-old buckled in his seat during severe turbulence, and that her parents were trying to get our baby daughter to nap. But I don’t remember severe turbulence or tantrums or anything. I just remember my Frito Happiness.
There were still two more hours in the air. I started to hear the distant screaming again. I popped the last of my allotment. I might as well have gotten stung by a billion ass bees. It shut the screaming people up, but it shut just about everything else up, too. Ah, so that’s where you pesky screaming people live in my brain, tucked in next to perception of self, memory, existence.
Like I said, I’m not a drug person. I’ve decided I quite like those screaming people. The next day I came back, in El Lay and dreaming of Joni Mitchell.
Because we were there mostly for family obligations, and because we are entrenched with two small kids, we didn’t get to do a whole lot of anything. But I did fall in love with those tall palm trees. I mean, I’ve seen a palm tree in my life. We even got some half ass ones in Maryland. I’ve also seen them in the southern states many times. I thought once you saw a palm tree, you’ve seen a damn tree. But these palm trees touch heaven. They are fantastic.
The California sunshine has a different vibe. It infuses everything, like fruit in a glass of water. It kisses those palm trees, it kisses the people. The east coast can be moody and glum, even on sunny days, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just our innate nature. The west coast people are instantly more approachable, more open, more sunny. And even as we spent most of our days shuttling between hotels and ironing clothes for wedding events, I could still feel that sunshine infusing me and making me feel more open.
I only saw some parts of Los Angeles from a rental car, but I dug the mid-century houses with the hacienda roofs. The houses seemed strangely tight-lipped and silent. If the sun and the people talked, the houses and roads seemed to say very little, exhausted from the congested stop-and-go traffic.
Anyway, I have a few stupid pictures. Let’s take a look together.
I love the Beach Boys. The music inspires me as a writer, and the world is so fortunate to still have Brian as a mental health survivor. We named our two kids after the Beach Boys. I even won a contest to meet Brian and get his autograph.
I guess the next natural step was to drive over to their hometown, Hawthorne, just a mile from LAX, and soak in the sadness of what it might feel like to have your childhood plowed over by a freeway. A monument sits in the place of where the Wilson family home’s front lawn curb would have been. The freeway sits right behind it.
Like everything with the Beach Boys, it will depress the hell out of you if you linger too long.
Sad gift shop items are one of my passions. Our hotel had a gift shop, a place my wife visited and claimed “had nothing,” but then she added “I’m sure you’ll find something.” I sure did.
I went in there and found many things to marvel over. Backed-over twice in the pick-up-truck Nemo was my personal favorite.
Nemo, you okay bud?
I collect shotglasses. It’s a hobby I always figured I’d take up in old age. Obviously if you know anything about me, you know I collect a billion things — records, 1980s toys, bootleg toys, Nintendo stuff, video games, Ninja Turtles, boomboxes — I don’t have any particular affinity for shotglasses or even for liquor. It just seemed like a thing to do at some point in my life.
Long ago I decided my criteria for choosing them would be “the stupidest one available.” The hotel gift shop was like, “I got you.”
Also I grabbed this magnet because I like to set money on fire, and it has hilariously bad kerning.
This magnet does not give a fuck. This magnet has no interest in design. It took five seconds to make. It is a magnet that says, “look, are you going to buy me or what? Because I don’t care.”
The answer was yes.
Most of my trip was spent milling about the Rite Aid across the street from the hotel after the kids went to bed. I mean, they’re sleeping in the one bed in our room, and I needed to get out. Downtown LA doesn’t have a ton of excitement within walking distance. There’s Skid Row, Starbucks, a bunch of stupid “build your own quinoa bowl” restaurants, and this Rite Aid that has an ice cream shop.
I became “known” by the second day, which is never a good feeling when in a city of 3.9 million people, when the employees are like “hey, back again?” and I’m just the reclusive, weirdo thirtysomething buying beer and candy bars, or taking pictures of the ice cream shop this time.
“Haven’t you ever seen an ice cream shop before?” an employee asked me.
“Where I’m from we do not have ice cream shops in Rite Aids.”
For real, is this a thing?
Around me, ice cream shops are in the orbit of little historic towns. East Coast got a billion little old ass towns with cobblestone streets and boardwalks. That’s where we keep our ice cream shops. We do not keep them in Rite Aids.
The Rite Aid even sold the ice cream cones from the weirdo Rite Aid Ice Cream Parlor! This was my favorite part. And what’s up with the weird square scoop? One day I will return and figure out all of the mysteries of Thrifty Rite Aid Ice Cream … or if someone can explain, please leave a comment.
What is Thrifty Ice Cream? Is it like Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Donuts weirdness? Is it like the sad hand-dipped ice cream counter that the generic pizza place down the street has? Is it A THING THAT IS AMAZING? Is it just the general appeal of buying hemorrhoid cream, children’s Tylenol, and a scoop of Rocky Road? Are there stand-alone Thrifty Ice Creams? Is there a following? A cult? Does anyone else ponder this much about generic ice cream?
This candy bar is called Big Hunk, which begs the question, a big hunk of what? A part of me wanted to keep it in my front suitcase pocket forever, where I might discover it once or twice a year. Oh there you are, Big Hunk, how I’ve missed you, whatever you are.
But curiosity overtook my weird Big Hunk Growing Old Together Fantasy, and I opened it. What is Big Hunk?
Big Hunk is this:
Big Hunk is like a giant piece of old lady candy. It’s like a Mary Jane or Squirrel Nut Zipper, with nuts and nougat and never-ending chewing. Seriously, if you want to eat a candy bar for a full eight hours, I recommend Big Hunk. What kind of monster would eat something like this?
My wife wouldn’t let us go in here because we didn’t have time. We had to hustle back to the hotel to get the kids dressed, get ourselves dressed, and go to a dinner rehearsal, so I’ll be forever sad. Because I KNOW that Olive Snack & Gift Magazine, Card and Souvenir is probably filled to the ceiling with amazing objects.
Alright ya’ll, let’s talk about food and what these are pictures of.
I didn’t get to experience LA much in the way of food, unfortunately. There was a restaurant connected to our hotel that was over the top in its foodie identity, claiming to be a place of “marvelously curated art meets craft, past meets future vibe that is wholly enticing and utterly original.”
These were the advertisements in the elevator. The wife and I spent two whole days pondering the first picture, and I took a photo of it so we can spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what it is.
A) An elongated olive filled with tuna?
B) An experimental black bun, much like the Halloween Whopper?
C) Eggplant, maybe? With chicken salad and mung beans?
And the second picture, which was highlighting their craft cocktails, is an ice cube on a block of wood. Fancy photograph ice.
Finally, it happened to be that this restaurant is where the morning after brunch buffet was held. I was thinking sweet, I’m gonna get me some scrambled eggs with hot sauce, some hash browns (I’d have settled for home fries,) a cheese danish, some toast soaked in butter, a pancake…
Hoo boy. The buffet had hardboiled eggs, roasted potatoes with spinach, chilled strawberries, some kind of danish with a goddamn peach baked inside of it, and this weird plate of ham.
Buffet sliced ham with some flowers on it. El Lay. Love your palm trees, but your plate of ham and flowers is unforgiveable.