The whole thing happened so fast, fueled as it was by the kind of mania that comes with being near the end of some kind of run that could only end in disaster, or a song.
Before I knew what it was I was doing, I had everything I owned — the odds and sods of a guy who had lived in 16 different places in 32 years — packed into the back of my baby-blue Ford F-150 pickup truck. I was headed to Los Angeles, dead set, again, for reinvention or ruin. In my rearview were several years of the sort of heavy lifting that had left broken bones, scarred psyches, public passing-outs and arrests in their wake… not to mention a tumultuous romance hanging in the balance. To complicate matters, I decided it would be a good idea to pick up a .357 Magnum and a couple boxes of ammo on the way. I pointed the loaded gun at every road sign from Colorado to Los Angeles. So it was I arrived, a straight man in West Hollywood. Completely off my rocker.
The apartment was the kind you get when you don’t know what you’re doing, a ground-floor one-bedroom in a vaguely Spanish-style stucco on the corner of Fountain and Stanley. It had a sputtering fountain in a haphazardly landscaped courtyard and few buffers against traffic noise or the unrelenting sun. The building was in a neighborhood that nine years ago epitomized the type of anonymous, bleak loneliness that seemed my destiny at the time, or at least within my budget.
I’ll cut through some of the back story: The romance ended in disaster; the gun was pointed at a lot of things (helicopters, my head), but never fired; the drinking finally ended and the madness after it.
When my head finally cleared enough to take a look around, I noticed I was naked and empty, literally and figuratively. My pad consisted of a mattress on the floor in the bedroom, some weird kind of futon-type thing in the living room, one of those foldup desks with a prehistoric computer on top of it, on which I was writing the third version of the novel that was going to show ’em all! The refrigerator, which went off every 15 minutes like a rocket launching, was empty. Out the door to the left there was nothing but traffic and the sun — my nemesis. Up to Sunset and, depending on the time of day or night, you’d find hookers, Kinko’s, KFC (still Kentucky Fried back then) or an All-American Burger to ease your worried mind. What a fucking mess. The few friends I had were scared of me, and I couldn’t blame them. I think the last guy who hung out there with me — who I should have shot — is still in rehab.
I bought a TV to help me pass the time and sat in front of it eating Pepperidge Farm cookies by the bagful. Milanos, Lidos, especially all varieties of Chocolate Chunk: Milk Chocolate Macadamia (Sausalito™), Dark Chocolate Chunk (Nantucket™), Dark Chocolate Pecan (Chesapeake™) — hard or soft batch, I ate them all with no prejudice and much gratitude while slipping deeper and deeper into Beverly Hills 90210 (the great, late years), Party of Five (who did I love more, Neve, J-Love or Matthew Fox?), and then, of course, heavenly Dawson’s Creek (oh, Joey, why’d ya have to play ’em like that?).
A friend told me later that he drove by to check on me once and saw my TV-illuminated, beanie-topped silhouette motionless against the background, except for the hand moving methodically from cookie bag to mouth, cookie bag to mouth. At least he knew I was alive, he said.
This went on for months, years even. I went to therapy. I stayed sober. And the only thing that’s really poignant about any of this stuff is the way you learn the meaning of one day at a time, which is the only way — the hard way.
Eventually you start noticing things. The thing I noticed first was that everyone in my building was gay. And by that I mean both happy and homosexual. The girls above me, one a hairdresser and the other an artist, were always working on their place. I could hear them hammering and sawing and painting and making decorations and doing great things with flowers. They’d both moved here from some place like Oklahoma, and they seemed to have found nirvana. That fact was confirmed by the sound of a different kind of pounding, which they went at nearly nightly with a fervor that I thought would send them through my ceiling and which only seemed to make me feel more lonely (though happy for them). Really, though, they were sexy and full of life in a completely unsophomoric way. I eventually got to know them and started going upstairs to watch Xena: Warrior Princess, get my hair cut and shoot the shit. They introduced me to Mistress Mona, the gay porno stylist and, frankly, totally hot cross-dresser who lived across the courtyard and who would parade in and out at all hours like a Pied Piper of boy toys.
After a while, I began to feel alive. A bit of a sense of humor returned. People stopped being frightened by me on sight. One Easter, the girls invited me upstairs for an egg painting at their apartment. The prospect filled me with the kind of terror the recently sober and, thus, completely agoraphobic will understand. But I went anyway. It was me and about a dozen of the queerest folk I had ever encountered in my three-plus decades on the planet. Suffice to say Mistress Mona was tame by comparison to the muscle boys and fluffers around the table. Somehow, though, they treated me well, I held my own, and we all had a good time. My Easter eggs were graciously displayed on the girls’ windowsill with the decidedly more fabulous ones created by the others.
One time, when I was upstairs getting my hair cut and watching Xena, the girls asked me if I knew about Candy, the girl who lived across the hall from Mistress Mona. They told me she was a dancer, a redhead and “really sexy.” I told them I’d keep an eye out. And I did, from the safety of my apartment, stalking her through the blinds as she’d walk purposefully to and from the building and her beat-down old Datsun wagon. I started milking them on subsequent visits for more details — where did she go, what does she do? “She’s a dancer, and really nice,” they told me, as if that was all I needed to know. I kept watching through the blinds. There was something in that walk of hers. What was it . . . a direction?
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mistress Mona was having similar conversations with Candy about me. Apparently he’d taken a fancy to me, primarily of the platonic sort, though his insistence that I sit with him and watch the latest example of his work (including a video for Rob Halford’s solo industrial-techno album!) betrayed some hope, which, honestly, wasn’t the worst thing for my bruised confidence.
So, while the girls upstairs may have thought this Candy was “sexy” and while Mistress Mona may have told Candy I was “yummy,” mostly they just wanted us to be gay. And by that, I mean happy and full of life, like they were.
I know fairy tales happen everywhere, but when they happen in West Hollywood, they earn their name. And here’s what happened. One morning I was filling up my truck’s gas tank on the corner of Sunset and Fairfax, when this old beater of a Datsun wagon pulled up at the same island and out came Candy. “Hey, you’re that guy who lives in…” she said.
I’ll cut through some of the back story. We don’t live there anymore, but I always point the place out when I drive by to whoever happens to be with me, even if it’s my wife, Candy. It’s the place where I really did become new again.