By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Illustration by Tra Selhtrow|
Back in the ’80s, when life was going well enough, Richard Leviton almost fell in love on account of a woman’s laugh, and also her tan, both of which, looking back, contained hints she might be crazy. She was a bright divorced mother from Wisconsin with a high, desperate laugh, the kind that actresses in melodramas used to have just seconds before it gave way to sobbing. The tan was an L.A. newcomer’s magnum opus. It had no lines at all, years before tanning beds, the insensate red-brown of a naturist or a girl from a Deadhead gathering.
He saw her whole tan one night after a fund-raiser lunch that she had helped publicize for the presidential campaign of Jerry Brown. The Brown organization in Los Angeles was chaotic enough to involve someone like Jaimie Gorski in a position of serious responsibility. Leviton had been a depressed reporter with an idea of being a fashionable underachiever. These were his 20s, when he felt thrown into the professional world with all the seams of his middle-class upbringing on view. He had been compensating for his insecurity by drinking, and with a juvenile approach to picking up women at parties that suggested they had stolen a car together and driven it across five states.
He watched Gorski revel in the camaraderie of the luncheon, sprinting from one best friend to another in the crowded dining hall. A record heat wave didn’t slow her down, and in the days before the fund-raiser, when it was clear that there was something unspokenly damaged in common about the two of them, she walked Leviton around Koreatown during lunch breaks, stopping to drink Gatorade with vodka under a tree outside an acupuncturist’s bungalow, happily answering the questions Leviton should have been putting to the candidate. Her skirt looked thin across her knees, and her anxious laugh made its impression, something like a premonition of Gorski unprotected, or trying too late to hide a hand of cards. On this scent of feminine jeopardy, Leviton was so aroused that any flattery from his lips would temporarily have been true. He could have proposed to her there on the lawn. Instead he just told her to kiss him (it came out halfway like a question), and she did — first gathered herself up to this new turn of events, then closed her eyes and gave him her whole open mouth, as if she were both disappointed and utterly used to this.
After an obscene kissing spell in the parking lot at the fund-raiser, Leviton followed Gorski to her Topanga Canyon guesthouse. Her son, a kindergartner, was still in Madison then; she had moved in bringing only her clothes. Husklike leaves littered the side streets in early-evening sunlight so flagrant that Leviton could count acorns along the sidewalks and gutters. Some surfers and a general-store disability crowd at the corner tiptoed through bottle glass. Behind the clapboard main house was the courtyard garden, laboratory of her tan. There was a splintered gazebo and a gourd of vodka by a lawn chair on a towel caked with dirt. The scene was as primitive and fresh with her absence as a shirt hung on a nail. This was her fuck-you to Wisconsin.
In the middle of the night Leviton lowered himself onto the lawn chair, no longer in love. Gorski lay hot as a sauna rock indoors, all the windows open and a bottle of aspirin in her fist. He’d had to hear about her childhood. She told him she’d played Queen Esther in a Bible musical, dressed in veils, turquoise baubles and a floral tiara, and that afterward a relative molested her. Literally hissing the details, she used Leviton’s hand to re-enact the event. Leviton grew shy. Not that her confession was so threatening per se, or even so novel to him in the psychic unveiling room of sex. But she was cathartic about it, getting nervier and more talkative as Leviton shrank. Her husband was the last man before Leviton, and he had broken her jaw.
Leviton’s unease with Jaimie Gorski helped him justify giving up the Jerry Brown assignment, and he never wrote to her or phoned her back. Yet when she dropped him a line, he felt an egotistical lift, and he hoped that she would flatter him for a while, keep on writing, until she understood that the interest was one-sided.
Leviton was big, and he could be generous, especially on his own turf, never prouder than when counseling someone else, squeezing a pal’s shoulder like he’d seen his father do. He toted a beer bottle and grinned like the young Charlton Heston. He counseled and grinned and all of a sudden it would seem to him that he’d been ridiculously out of line. Then he’d grill everyone who’d listen: Was I — you know — butting in? He’d married young and divorced by 23, assuring his partner that their problems had not been her fault. But his humility was as convenient as his generosity. Suddenly single, he threw a summer-solstice party, hiked to the Griffith Observatory every day, and got drunk at lots of Dodgers games, leaning over the left-field rail to scoop a fistful of the red-clay warning track. He ate beans and rice at about a thousand music benefits, where he would be carried away by the miracle of belonging: to L.A., his times and his friends. Love letters were instant souvenirs from what Leviton already regarded as the legend of his 20s.