What were they doing here at the end of this alley? There was no doubt they were mine, same scuffs around the toe, same worn third hole where they buckled — my black ankle-strap stilettos. Even though I had nothing to do with how they got here, I still felt ashamed. My dirty heels, lying next to a disemboweled carton of pad Thai with its noodles spilling out like entrails. I had tossed the shoes, relics from when I lived in New York City and believed I was a young Kim Cattrall, only a few days earlier. Now they sat like drunks passed out in an alley a few blocks from my house. How embarrassing. I was surprised, however, that whoever took them got this far, for they were not comfortable shoes. And who would have fished them out of my trash anyway?
I found myself piecing together a person, an evening, a story. And so began my fascination for the alleyways of Los Angeles. Sure, I had seen plenty of them in movies: The parents of superheroes are always killed in alleys; the clickety-clack of a femme fatale’s footsteps echoes seductively in them; this is the place drugs are sold and taken, where car chases race through. But the real-life stories that take place are so much more enthralling. The alley behind my Venice house is a favorite, because it is so narrow — its tall fences and garages form a seamless fortress wall. You feel like you’ve gone behind the façade of a movie set, past the lights and camera of everyday life, to a stillness and quiet devoid of people, and yet it’s like the alley is reality and the other side, where we live, is the illusion. And reality smells like bitter stale beer and cat piss; sometimes it has a mechanic-shop smell, but everyone knows the odor, generally referred to as “garbage” stink. It usually lingers long after the bins, lining both sides in green, blue and black clusters, have been emptied. All around there is evidence of the people I never see when I’m walking my dog down these back corridors. An industrial-size bottle of soy sauce sits next to a smashed, half-eaten watermelon, along with a box of Band-Aids — I can only begin to imagine who and what brought these items to this very spot. (A fusion sushi chef down on his luck?) I picture some Samuel Beckett Endgame-esque scene with people popping out of garbage cans while the city sleeps. And when I’m cruising the alleys on my way to work, as though they were the back roads of a podunk town, shortcuts around L.A.’s one-way streets, I enter the world of the crows. Especially in the commercial alleys, where the colored cans are replaced with giant blue dumpsters. The feasting birds scatter as my VW humps and bucks past discarded baby cribs and plaid couches. I hope for a glimpse of the people who might find rest on the tossed, damp furniture. Forget the backdrop surface streets; if you want to take a shortcut with a dose of reality, try the alley.