When it comes to time to move, there are things you you put in the U-Haul, and then there are things you leave behind. Like the crack in the door that appeared when you slammed it during a fight three years ago. You’ll never have to see that again.
Echo Park is done. The Mysteries of Baywood await. Fresh doors, untrammeled by passion.
Los Angeles likes to put its feet out after sundown. The roadways clear. You can cross the twinkling plain of the city in 20 minutes. You see it the way Nathaniel West did.
Thirsts are indulged. People become just like themselves, only more so. They bring margarita belch and testosterone into the car. They bring reflective moods. They confess to illicit behavior. They invite you upstairs to play Twister. They withdraw into their phones, ghostly apparitions in the backseat, necks drooped like penguins, swiping, scrolling. They over-share. They pitch their sizzle reel and Soundcloud release. They want you to tell them stories of other Uber riders. They want to know how terrible they are. Tell us about the drunks! But the drunks are predictable, rarely a problem. Entitlement and ingratitude are. But you don’t say that, because the asker of the question is more often than not a white woman from the Westside, and white women from the Westside are the worst riders you encounter.
They love to make you wait, double-parked in a bus lane, while they
say goodbye dawdle with their friends in the restaurant. In West Hollywood. You circle the block and try again. Cars honk at you. Other Ubers honk at you. Valet parkers wave flashlights. She emerges, texting, flops down with a weary sigh in the back seat, but doesn’t close the door.
“Wah-ut? I’m waiting for my friend. she’s in the bathroom.”
“I can’t double park here.”
“She’s in the bathroom. She’ll be right out, okay? Jeez.”
Now an actual city bus is behind us, honking.
“You gotta shut the door. I’m gonna get a ticket.”
“Why is your car so dirty?”
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s a streak on the window.”
You just cleaned the windows, as you do before every shift, and there is indeed a streak on the passenger side window, incriminating in the glare of the sodium lights. An LA Sheriff’s Dept. patrol car barks orders over his PA: Move your Uber, NOW. Mercifully, he’s on the other side of the street and some other luckless driver is about to get ticketed.
The friend lollygags out of the restaurant. They sink into Phone World on the drive to Santa Monica, scrolling, swiping…a monkish silence punctuated by the Snapchat feed, shrill, distorted bursts of music and random shrieks from friends somewhere in the city, doing Something Which Must be Shared. Either they bore of it or the feed runs dry and they begin to whisper to each other. Then the Alpha Girl of the two speaks:
“You should clean your car better. You should clean it every day if you want to charge people money. Seriously.”
And for less than the price of valet parking, I whisk them to their front door.
A couple months ago, I went to Harvard and Stone in Hollywood with young Derek to buy him a round and wish him well on his first American tour. About 1:40 AM, we left the smokers patio and walked back to the bar to find a dozen young women dancing together while a DJ spun James Brown on vinyl. There were perhaps half that number of men scattered around the room. And by men, I mean people in their twenties.
Not one of them got up and danced.
No one made an approach.
Eventually the women gave up. They retreated to couches, curled up like cats, took out their phones and started swiping.
Admittedly, it had been more than a decade since I had closed down a bar in Hollywood, or anywhere, but the sheer absence of testosterone, properly channeled, was eye-opening. Then it was perplexing. James Brown, closing time, two chicks for every guy, grinding their booties in a hopeful manner, and the beta-males wouldn’t rouse themselves from their phones.
Something has changed.
As a coda, the Niece came out this week from Massachusetts for a visit and a sneak preview of her near future as an art student in Los Angeles. Her versatility at maintaining cross-country text conversations while simultaneously eating and talking to us was remarkable. An accomplished selfie-taker, she had a palette of poses she could comfortably try on and discard, like hats. She posed any way I wanted her whenever I pointed a lens in her direction. She spent much time on her laptop.
A diagnosis of teenaged narcissism would be misplaced. To my novice eyes, I saw not self-absorption but Gatsby-esque platonic self-conception on the female side of the phone. Personas being crafted and honed in the privacy of one’s room, where one can sort out the tension between how you see yourself and how you wish to be seen, bypassing the gatekeepers of family and frenemies before public presentation.
The male gaze is coming, and for centuries it has been on male terms. In the Americanized form, you got your prom photo, sitting on the swing against the same backdrop as every other girl in your class. That was pretty much it, unless you chose an acting career, in which case you got a portfolio created by men for the perusal of other men. The phone flips the power dynamic into female hands. Every girl can now be Cindy Sherman, in theory.
Mrs. UpintheValley, who I normally have to chastise into posing, was fascinated by that thing she does with her mouth. “How does she do it? It’s effortless.”
Except that it isn’t. She worked at it. It’s performance art.
To what end? In loco parentis, I can’t help but fast forward five years when she’s no longer a teenager, and she walks into Harvard and Stone with her art school friends. To what state of primordial adolescence will men be reduced by then? Will they be lined up at the bar wearing virtual reality goggles, texting interactive fart jokes to each other? Where is all this headed?
I think I understand what the women are trying to do. The men I don’t understand at all.
“Turning yourself into a pretzel is less important than coming to center.”
People fond of such aphorisms, I can’t help notice, have no problem pretzeling themselves at will. Me, I huff, I puff, I grunt, I teeter-totter on the balls of my feet, trying to hold a basic warrior pose. Eventually I re-establish my breath, and then its on to the next position, and fresh agonies.
Sweat enough, and you forget yourself. Shavasana arrives like your own happy coffin. An afternoon baptism: death, burial and resurrection. Then you roll over onto your side, reborn.
You’ve earned a pint.
I’m not sure why people didn’t think of this earlier, but the beer and yoga era is upon us. MacLeod has its own yogi now, Jess Bishop, up from WeHo on Sunday afternoons.
The cool concrete floor is well-suited to practice.
Jess entered her practice from the side door of college athletics at Pitt, where she ran track and obtained a Masters in Teaching. “Yoga deceived me. I thought it would make me a better runner”, said Jess, “but what it taught me is acceptance.”
There followed three years of teaching English in Phoenix, a bad breakup, moving to LA, acting, yoga teacher training (on the advice of her mother) and steady work based out of CorePower along with private sessions.
“There’s something about taking an hour for movement and mindfulness and breath, then unwinding with a beer.”
Twelve bucks, Sundays at 1pm. Chaser pint included. Down, dog. Brewasana.