The flier on the utility pole outside Echo Park's Chango Café looks like lots of fliers on lots of utility poles, except instead of hawking furniture or renting out a room, the thick, black headline implores: "Looking for friends to hang out with." At the bottom are the customary pretorn small telephone-number tabs.
The simplicity of the sentiment is disarming. Human beings may need food, water and basic shelter to physically survive, but a life without social companionship hardly seems like a life at all. You can never be too rich or too thin or have too many friends, but in a city as vast, transient and seemingly ephemeral as Los Angeles, even the very rich and the very thin must ask themselves, on occasion, how many friends they really have.
As Joan Jett sings: "You got nothing to lose, you don't lose when you lose fake friends."
Brian McFadden, 25, put up the flier. Recently arrived from Denver, he puts a high premium on having friends — preferably real ones — and having fun, and so he decided not to rely on indirect approaches or happenstance meetings to bring people into his life. Instead, he puts up fliers and fields a slow, steady stream of phone calls.
"I got this one call, he started off real slow ... ," says McFadden, a scruffy, diminutive guy in plastic-framed glasses and colorful, thrift store–like attire. "I could tell he was with his friends. He took five minutes to tell me the knock-knock joke 'Orange you glad. ...' It took him five minutes to figure out the fuckin' joke, and he told it and complained that I didn't laugh. 'Ya gotta give me something to work with, man!' "
McFadden has impish eyes and a ready grin that lend him the vibe of a lovable street urchin. Seated at downtown's Redwood Bar, cold Tecate in hand, he recalls another caller who turned out better.
"We scheduled a meet-up over in the Silver Lake area, and I was, like, 'Dude, let's go pick some fruit.' " McFadden had a map from Fallen Fruit, an organization and Web site promoting the convenient, highly economical and totally legal activity of picking and eating fruit from the branches of private trees that overhang onto public walkways.
"He was kinda shy, but we went and picked some fruit, I brought some beers in my backpack so we could slam some in an alleyway — that's kinda my style — and then I was, like, 'Whaddaya like? Whaddaya like to do?' " McFadden's voice becomes high and plaintive, lending sincerity to the question.
So what does this new friend enjoy doing? " 'Play Nintendo, mostly, and that sorta thing.' The guy had a Wii system, so we went and played."
Truth be told, McFadden's friend-getting experiment is as much a work of living performance art as it is the result of his desire to hang with some new friends. He lived in a Denver warehouse that was part art gallery and part indie-magazine headquarters, and he interned at a gallery in Silver Lake.
In conversation, it becomes clear that he wants to make his life some kind of creative, social/aesthetic exploration.
"There are so many different directions I could take it," he explains. "Everyone's got ideas. I'm trying to meet really weird people like myself, who will answer a flier like that."
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McFadden shares a modest North Hollywood apartment with one of his old Denver art-scene buddies and gets around L.A. via public transportation or bicycle. He seems to gravitate toward the "analog" and the "real" in all areas of his life. He prefers meeting people through old-fashioned ink on paper, brief telephone calls and face-to-face hanging out — not online.
"I'm not on Facebook." It's the closest this likable guy comes to sounding strident. "I'm opposed to that culture, and all that sorta thing. You don't need — these people aren't your friends, I haven't talked to these people in years. People that I still talk to, they call me on the phone, or ... I still write letters, like e-mails, like personal things, not just, like, 'Everybody can see this.' "
Of his goal as a calculating friend-maker, he says, "The more friends I get, it'll just spiral up into something ... maybe, between a few friends, and then more friends, and get them together, and eventually we'll be ... playing some kick ball, or, uh ..."
The sentence doesn't need to be finished. McFadden smiles his superhumanly happy smile and takes a gulp of beer. The path of a full-time friend-maker will always naturally sort itself out.