Couch Hopping in L.A.

Sitting on the red-painted curb by the pay phones at the 76 station on Hollywood and Bronson, 21-year-old Greg is sipping from a Coke can. His elbows have resigned themselves to his Dickies-clad knees, and that dejected look he is wearing can’t quiet the excitement in his blue, sleepy eyes.

More gorgeous than a member of the Strokes, Greg is dressed in a Johnny Thunders tee, hidden by a brown button-down. One of his worn and faded Vans has “The Clash” written on it. The other, Greg says, used to say “Fuck You.” “But that rubbed off.”

A little while ago he was arguing on the phone with his mom, a nurse back in Jersey, just outside Philadelphia. “I can call her for free at work on the 1-800 number.” After three months in Los Angeles, Greg wants to go home to his parents. But his mom, who wished he had gone to college, is afraid that if he comes back, he’ll only get strung out again on drugs.

Greg told her, “If I’m gonna get strung out, why would I waste my time coming all the way back there when I could get strung out here, where it’s nice?” He also told her that if she doesn’t let him come home, he’s just not gonna call for a long time, and make her worry. His mom told him to call her at home later after she got off work.

Under Greg’s shirt, there is a spider-web tattoo covering one of his elbows, a bluebird on his neck and a small patch of fresh track marks in the bend of his right arm. Greg, who has messy dyed-black hair and a youthful crooked smile, only does, as he puts it, “rock & roll drugs” — heroin and cocaine. He never shot up speed, but “I always wanted to try it,” he says.

That Midnight Cowboy who just walked by in the black cowboy hat, boots and jeans is homeless. “Almost anyone you see out here is,” Greg says. Including that skinny girl with the new-wave haircut and ruffled mini.

Greg isn’t homeless. He’s “couch hopping.” He slept at a friend’s last night and was kicked out of the parking lot of a nearby 7-Eleven an hour ago for begging change.

Why’d you come here?

“To make it in music . . . not to have to work, you know, get a huge record deal.”

Greg doesn’t have a band — he did a long time ago, back home. He doesn’t play an instrument. He sings. His style, he says, is like Johnny Thunders, his “favorite . . . and a little like Sid Vicious.”

Sometimes he writes songs in a notebook. The lyrics “just come to him.” They are about “life and stuff that pisses me off.” Like “how fucked up the country is and President Bush — I hate him.”

You wrote about that?

“Yeah.”

What else did you write about?

“Getting drunk . . . and how much L.A. sucks. But sometimes it doesn’t. L.A. is the best place to live in the U.S. The weather is good, and it has the best-looking girls. It’s Friday night every night out here.”

Did you write that in a song?

“No. I did write a song about living in my car with my best friend.”

That was the last time Greg lived out here, back in August 2002. This time he doesn’t have a car, but he does have a 19-year-old girlfriend who goes to LACC — they fight a lot.

Why?

“She can’t make up her mind about shit. She wants to play games. She can’t figure out if she still wants to talk to her ex-boyfriend.”

Greg hit his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend with a set of brass knuckles last week downtown. Greg also broke the window at the tattoo parlor where the guy works.

Did she like that?

“I don’t know, I don’t care. I was trying to piss her off.”

Well, did you guys hook up after that?

“Yes.”

His girlfriend hates it when he gets high. And, before last night, it had been weeks since he had.

“It’s just that life sucks so much right now, I might as well.”

Later, Greg wants to walk down to El Capitan “’cause they are giving away tickets to see Jimmy Kimmel.” He’s also gonna go to the free clinic and see if they can give him an appointment to fill his tooth. All this is written in ballpoint, unclearly, on his hand, as well as a reminder to get “Up Early.”

But before anything, he hopes to get some money and some food and then go downtown so he can “probably get high.” He pulls a pack of Top tobacco from his backpack, which also has a razor, deodorant, clothes and a folded-up flier for an all-ages show at the Knitting Factory.

The worst thing that has happened since he arrived in Hollywood is getting a ticket for “flying a sign next to the freeway.” Instead of paying the panhandling ticket, he said, “Screw it,” and threw it away. He also got a ticket from the Metro cops for hopping a train. The best thing that’s happened here? “Nothing really . . .”

Greg had a job at Aron’s Records, but the hours and the pay “sucked.” Back in Jersey he worked at Home Depot. He doesn’t want to work at the Hollywood branch down the street. He just wants to go home for a while.

“Every day is the same out here.” He gets harassed by the cops and tires of all the “crackheads and junkies.” Exhaling from the cigarette he just rolled, he says, “I get pissed off a lot.”

His room at his parents’ house is just the way he left it. All his stuff is there. “All my records.”


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