It's 5 a.m. in Los Angeles and I've decided to go in search of the perfect donut. I'm not sure what the perfect donut will be – I have my ideas – but I don't want to prejudice myself. I want to be open to the possibilities – a tabula rasa of donut desire. I want the perfect donut to present itself to me. I want to have a pulse-racing visceral reaction to the perfect donut when I see it. I want it to be love at first sight and I want to love it unconditionally. I don't care if it's 8 feet in diameter and 3 feet thick, rolling south on Highland. If that is the perfect donut and I know it, I will run it down, lasso the bitch, drag it back to my apartment, put on some coffee and make it mine. Because I am a man in need.
My need stems from desperation. I am a desperate man. I am desperately awake. Again. Thinking all those tossing-and-turning thoughts that only come out at night. WHO AM I? WHAT AM I? AND HOW DID I GET HERE? Thinking, Damn, I used to be a beautiful boy and people liked me and I liked people and life liked me and I liked life and now here I am in a crappy one-bedroom Hollywood apartment 1,500 miles away from that last person on Earth I feel connected to and . . . and . . . if that isn't enough, when I wake up I'll be down to my final year in that prized 18-to-34-year-old marketing demographic and . . . and what next? Am I supposed to get stoked by ads hawking financial planning and life insurance and Oldsmobiles and ab rollers . . . and everyone knows once you get your first Oldsmobile or ab roller, colon probes and prostate examinations are right behind and . . . Oh, Jeeezus.
Basically, you know, it was one of those nights that can be summed up in a groan or two. I think you'll know how I felt when I tell you that by 4 a.m. I was humming the Grease soundtrack and feeling strangely sad about the whole thing.
But even as I prepared myself for the quest, I had to ask myself: Why donuts? See, I'm like you. I don't eat donuts anymore. Donuts have gone the way of blue jeans, big hair, K cars or even straight-up coffee – the kind that comes in a Styrofoam cup with no head. Everything is so fucking complicated these days. Even breakfast is high-performance. High-fiber, low-fat cranberry bran muffins. Wildberry-juice freezes with vitamin, protein, immunity and fat-buster boosts. Or, if you're feeling dangerous, maybe a chocolate croissant. What the fuck happened to donuts? It seemed so anachronistic.
But that's the way I was feeling.
Maybe the donut appeal goes back to a simpler time. Back to those Sunday mornings when I was a little tyke and my dad used to take me and my brother Sean and our dog, Zorba, out to the lake in Haddonfield, New Jersey. We'd be out the door by the break of dawn. We'd stop by the local Dunkin' Donuts, order a dozen plain and cups of coffee with milk and no sugar, and my old man would show us the pleasures of dunking a plain donut into a plain cup of coffee. Then we'd toss a stick into the lake for old Zorba to fetch. It'd go on for hours. It made me feel like I was on the same level as my old man. An adult like him. The two of us and Sean. Dunking our donuts and slurping our coffee. Mmmm. It was only later, much later, in life that I realized my old man was doing what an adult man should do – taking his raging hangover outside with him for a few hours so his sleep-deprived wife could doze and maybe spare him some wrath later. But, hey, why spoil the romance of a good memory with niggling details?
An unadorned plain donut dunked in a steaming hot cup of bitter coffee. Maybe that's the ticket out of this sleepless purgatory, I thought to myself. Maybe I could find my way to a little off-hours fraternity on the margins, to the kind of redemption that comes from a look in the eye from some guy with 100,000 miles on his odometer, a look that says, Whoa, boy, you think you had a night, I'll tell ya about a night.
And the look would say, Sonny, it all started at the bar down the street there, drinking shots of Jack and chasing it with Bud. Had about five or six of each and then this fine lady comes up to me. She was about 5-9, blond hair, legs till Tuesday and talk about some lungs, boy. Well anyway, she says, Can I buy you a drink? And I say, Lady, if you can't nobody can. So we go into a booth in the corner and have us a couple drinks. And boy, the conversation is taking off. She tells me she's a stewardess based out of LAX for some Brazilian airline. Goes down on Friday, parties in Rio, comes back by Monday, has a few days off, and does it again. Says she's tight with some Generalissimo or something. Owns a big compound up in the hills. It's all feudal down there, but she gets the royal treatment. First-class everything in Rio. Champagne, caviar, hot tubs, heads of state, all taking first crack at the dope before they ship it up here and it gets cut to shit. And anyway, the long and short of it is she's got some time on her hands before she has to jump back on the Rio express.
And when she asks me about myself, well, I tell her the truth. Tell her I'm a world-famous surgeon. The guy who pioneered organ transplants from pigs. You know pigs are the closest animals, anatomically, to humans. So, basically, I save dying kids and kidney-failing rock stars. I'm on the news like twice a week. What, you don't recognize me? Oh, well, this, these old tattered clothes, well, darling, this is just my disguise, because I like to get my fingernails dirty when I'm not on call. You know, slum it up a little to take the pressure off. And she believes me because I'm telling her the God's truth. And so we have some drinks and then she pulls out like a Ziploc bag full of coke and waves it around like a winning Lotto ticket. Well, how many times do you get to party with someone who's tight with the Generalissimo? So we go into the bathroom and hoover up a few fatties. When we come out I put some salsa music on the jukebox, you know, to set the mood, for all I know she thinks I'm the fucking Generalissimo at this point, because we're pretty lit. And pretty soon we're dancing the tango, the rumba, the lambada, everything. And we're doing it all real good and I think she's digging my moves.
And then we go out in the back parking lot to get some fresh air and I light up a couple of heaters for us and the sweat's starting to dry on my back and I'm getting a little chilly and the next thing I know there's this bright flash of light, like someone flicked the switch at a football stadium or something, and everything starts spinning like the world's been sped up to 78 rpm and I start to black out and I can't see anything but I can hear voices talking and Jimmy Cagney singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in the background . . . and then I wake up outside the bar, right there on the sidewalk, and damn if they didn't take my teeth, throw this old saggy, wrinkly skin over me and give me this cane to help me walk. It's a bitch, sonny. I swear to you, I was 29 when this night started. So, you think you had a night . .
Or maybe it would be someone else. Maybe I'd walk into Scotties Donuts at Sunset and Fuller and see a forlorn young lady in a Navy pea coat and faded jeans with a hole in the knee that hints of the unblemished skin beneath her Irish sweater, whose jagged hair is tucked into a black beanie and whose distant gray eyes meet mine as I order a glazed old-fashioned and turn to see the small duffel bag next to her white Chuck Taylors onto which she has scribbled Tramps Like Us on one and Baby We Were Born To Run on the other. And I'd sit down and start to dunk my donut into my ordinary coffee with cream and she'd look me over again and then tell me how it all started back in Minnesota six days ago when she and her high school sweetheart stole her daddy's Buick Le Sabre, headed south on I-35 and hit their first gas station in Albert Lea.
And how they did it was, they'd drive by the station, scope it out and pull off on a side street. Then she'd change into her cheerleader outfit and he into his football jersey, number 1, like Warren Moon, which they kept in the trunk along with the 12-gauge bird gun his daddy got him when he was 10. She'd put her hair in ponytails and ribbons and he'd put shoe polish under his eyes. The last thing was the helmet. When he had the helmet on, he'd say, Blue 42! Blue 42! Hut! Hut! And they'd burst in and she'd yell, GIMMEE A C, GIMMEE AN A, GIMMEE AN S, GIMMEE AN H! WHADDYA GOT? CASH! CASH! WE WANT CASH!
He'd point the gun and the clerk would empty the register into the pillowcase she was holding and they'd grab the money and run out of there laughing their heads off. And they'd do it again in Mason City and again in Lincoln and again in Sterling and pretty soon newspapers all across the Great Plains were telling the tale of The Homecoming Queen and King, A Modern-Day Bonnie and Clyde You Could Root For. And there were stories with arrows on the maps of the places they'd hit and pretty soon the Homecoming King was leaving behind autographed napkins that read Nobody Wins With Child Abuse, Love Warren, and the Queen was doing cheerleading kicks into the surveillance camera, if there was one, to show that no she wasn't wearing underwear beneath her cheerleader skirt, and they continued heisting their way west until the Queen woke up in the middle of the night in an empty bed in a cheap hotel in Vegas only to find that the King had split with the money and the car, leaving behind $100 and a note that said See You After the Big Game, and so she caught a bus and here she was.
And there I'd be. And what the hell? Maybe everything else'd be wrong, maybe I'd be 34 and starting over, but the donut would be perfect and things can get started that way, you know?
So I'm heading out onto the dirty boulevard at 5 a.m. Out into the possibility of community with the brotherhood of shaking hands and delayed dreams and stubborn hope. Into the reassuring glow of desperation. Because today's my 34th birthday and I'm looking for the perfect donut.