K-Town

Korea Town, Los Angeles.  From Western to Vermont and Beverly to Olympic, the border lines containing one of L.A.’s most sacred lies.  You can live here alone and not end up eating Ramen and slurping tap water to make ends meet.  You can be alone and still afford a night out in more affluent areas you know you will live in one day.  You can afford this area and still believe it’s just temporary because your headshots will find their way to THE casting agent, or your script will be read by THAT producer.  You can live here and still afford to believe in your dreams.  Korea Town is in the middle of it all, the clearance shelving unit in the middle of the gauche department store.  You’re surrounded by wealth and every once in a while the wealth touches you.  After a time you realize this wasn’t the area you thought it would be.  Korea Town promised a “young and new night life” and “affordable luxury” for the influx of young film grads who don’t know any better.  Year after year they come for the cheap housing, arriving from places too far away to actually see this deteriorating landing strip for Hollywood Hopefuls.  K-Town looks good from afar, but it is far from good.

You look up this cube of zoning that the L.A. elite attempt to gentrify every so often and you discover through the L.A. Times Crime Map that there’s a lot of crime here.  And you never see it happen.  Even when crime hits your block of ancient hotels-turned-apartment buildings you never see anything.  You hear the sirens, but you never see justice.  You sit writing that script or planning your web series in an old, former hotel room that is sweltering in summer and the landlord reminds you there are no A/C units allowed because they’ll scratch the peeling paint on the window sill.  Your room is colder than the air outside during the crisp L.A. “winter,” which is really just a brisk spring for the freshly transferred East Coasters who still have their thick blood.  The room transforms into a dry sauna without any breeze through the open window when summer rages late August.  You live in L.A. long enough and you hear snippets of conversations between twenty-somethings at Starbucks “If I had known I would never have moved to K-Town” or “It’s affordable, but no one wants to come to my place.  I’m not gonna get laid for a year!”  Eight hundred bucks with utilities included didn’t look bad when you were planning your big move from your parents’ basement after saving for your coming career in showbiz.

But when you get here you see the Latinos selling street food on the corners, the homeless staggering around, the trash filling the gutters, and the discarded mattresses and furniture from those who got the fuck out.  The only clean things you notice are the new restaurants that will go out of business in six months and the blocky Korean storefront signs that are neon beacons in a zone of brown, gray, and pale red.

You move in anyway.  You move in knowing you gotta start somewhere and you’ve got high hopes.  Really, you just fucked up and there’s no backing out.  You left home, you crossed thousands of miles, you signed that lease.  You’re gonna do one year.  One year is all you need to make something of yourself within the four streets that may as well be the nicknames given to the invisible walls that make your prison.  They will be your compass from now on, clockwise: Beverly, Vermont, Olympic, Western.

In three months you’ll get used to falling asleep to Mariachi music, babies crying, and emergency sirens, in six months you’ll have tough skin for tuning haters out when you say where you’re living and the haters make passive aggressive comments, and when you’re drunk you’ll hear yourself defending your living situation.  In nine months you’ll be furious with how Korea Town is advertised (gentrified buildings, clean streets, night life) versus what you really get for shelling out for this bait and switch deal (squalor, filth, crime – the affordable K-Town).  In a year you’re more focused on getting out than on your still-budding showbiz career and your degree is collecting dust.  You have the days counted down to when you can get out, you call friends for tips on where to live and who you can room with, and those calls are not returned.  You realize you are in the middle of it all, the glitz, glam, but no one sees you anymore.  A year is almost up, your lease is about to switch to month-to-month, you can leave anytime after that date you have X’d in red.  You will leave.  You will get the hell out and make up for lost time and sleep.  You’re gonna be a star.

Forget it, Jack, this is K-Town.

I love K-Town, baby.  Most people give it a bad story and blame it for their stunted lives.  Let me tell you one true thing, these young white college boys and girls were stunted long before they got here.  The other ethnicities here have actually moved up in life when they get to K-Town.  They know what bad living situations are.  Regardless, any part of L.A. can get shitty real quick.  Just go into the Trader Joe’s on Hollywood and Vine, 1600 Vine for those of you getting a ride there, and odds are you can catch security using pepper spray on someone for shoplifting or just being a wasted piece of shit in public.  Security tries to pepper the perps outside the store, but most of the time things get out of hand too fast and they do it right there in the frozen foods aisle.  The way the wind rushes into the store due to the ventilation system the pepper spray disperses and for half an hour everyone is coughing and red-eyed right in the middle of family friendly Hollywood where the star walk gathers the most gawkers.  Any place in L.A. is ripe for chaos.  Don’t let the advertising fool you.

K-Town has the best bars and that’s good enough for me.  It’s a town you want to visit briefly – get drunk, eat good food, and then bail at high speed on a full stomach spiked with soju.  You don’t want to live here unless you’ve had worse, like MacArthur Park, but that’s another blog post lurking in my memory.

I came to L.A. full of wonder, innocence, and Hollywood dreams.  The only thing that remains now is the wonder.  I saw a body last week here in K-Town.  No news vans, no chaos, no crowds.  Slow Korea Town nights, just part of the natural cycle of a city caught in its own whirlpool of hype.

Coroners waved flashlights around the bloated body that sagged over the sidewalk and into the parking lot.  The homeless man’s possessions lay about.  A filthy sleeping bag lumped over strips of cardboard.  A pink hair brush.  Two garbage bags and a shopping cart.  I felt bad for him.  He probably wanted the same things I took for granted and he did the best he could on a sidewalk outside a place where people cleaned their clothes.  

I was the only one watching, everyone else close by was either getting paid to deal with the body or walking home to recharge for another day of what the world forgets happens in L.A.; normal life.  I love K-Town because it makes no apologies or distractions.  Stay ugly, K-Town, L.A. needs your aches and disorder to stay in touch with reality.

The Bride Wore Black

Cornell Woolrich nails the Femme Fatale trope with a fresh twist in The Bride Wore Black.  From beginning to end, you’re routing for the mysterious woman who is killing off men with clever wit and shocking determination.  It isn’t until the final pages that you discover the why? of it all, but from the start Woolrich weaves a rich cast of characters, but what makes you burn through the pages is that by getting familiar with the victims you get to know the murderess, who remains nameless for the majority of the novel and a mystery shrouded behind the designs of the killings.

Many stories have trouble keeping things secret and still remain interesting.  The Bride Wore Black serves up five distinct murders without divulging its core until the very end, which makes me wonder if I’d be just as thrilled with the story had Woolrich never revealed the big why?, which actually turns out to be very simple.  Are we so enamored by violent death that it is enough to show it without moral bearings or reason in the end?  I wonder about this because for most of the novel the reader is not given anything to go on.  A woman is killing men, planning in fine detail each murder, each more grisly than the last and more desperate as she gets closer to her unknown goal.  Woolrich offers nothing and it occurred to me that I was assuming she was in the right from the get go.  I had assumed the men she was killing off had wronged her in someway, that the murders were justified homicides even if the law both as portrayed in the book and in real life were and would be opposed to vigilante justice.  I assumed killing people was sound and I overlooked the fact that my justifications for her actions didn’t have any sort of logical foundation.  The novel doesn’t force itself on you, the reader willingly hopes for the woman to succeed and you discard logic and morality believing this mystery femme has done the brain work for you – and for the right(eous) reasons.

At the very end, a quick plot twist pulls the proverbial rug out from under the murderess, and the reader.  I’m too late for the Spoiler Alert, maybe, but Woolrich’s prose is like strong magic tricks, even when you’ve seen how they work, the trick still hooks you every time.  The Bride Wore Black will hex you just like black magic and the curse is condoning murder, something none of us would ever do, right?

Cold Moon

Blue Moon.  The second full moon in a month.  Won’t happen again for eighteen years, won’t have a blue moon on New Year’s Eve for… I don’t know how long.  Not long enough?  Too soon?  Maggie said a Blue Moon in December is a “Cold Moon.”  Every Blue Moon has a name according to its month.  It’s not actually cold in L.A.  More like “Lukewarm Moon.”  Cold, maybe, in emotion, in action.

One o’clock New Year’s morning and everyone is dying.  Two hours before most of L.A. was screaming “Happy New Year!” already drunk and then drinking one more in complete bliss and humanitarian spirit.  Maybe another for the road.

Two hours later, after the witching hour in this brave new world, people are screaming for help.  I hear nothing but sirens.  Police.  Paramedics.  Fire trucks.  I heard nothing but sirens at 2 am, when the celebrating citizens realized they had three too many and were drowning in their own filth, or crashed on a freeway, or victim to some other horror that happens when unarmed and intoxicated people walk the streets believing the world is a better place than it is.  So, there were many cries for help this morning of the New Year and those sirens were the first thing I heard, like the trumpets of Revelation.  The end.  Was it seven angels and their seven trumpets bringing down cities?  The analogy amuses me but I don’t believe in it.  The end is the beginning for those who survive.

I heard the world end this morning, but maybe those were the cries of a newborn. Wailing sirens sped past the hospital room window hoping to be there in time, hoping this wasn’t a year like all the others where people got hurt or died by ignorant and embarrassing means.  I was unable to rest and after the siren’s were gone I listened to Rachel sleep.  I wondered what she would think of it all when she woke up because I knew what I thought now and I couldn’t sleep because nothing had changed in world.  I couldn’t do anything, just like last year and the year before.  I wished I had drank as much as she did so I’d be unconscious during these first clumsy steps into the new year.

I sat awake knowing that those sirens were rescuing people who had made resolutions.  Millions of people thinking over and over “I am going to _____” or “I am not going to ____” and now those resolutions were forgotten in a panic of just trying to survive to see the sunrise, or drowned by intoxication to be forgotten in a fog of headaches and de ja vu.  Those resolutions were off to a good start.  I hadn’t made any resolution, I don’t think most of my friends did, either.  After so many years of wishing I noticed there was always more alcohol and drugs and larger screens than the year before.  Far less wishing and even less promises.  I was just waiting around like so many other young adults in L.A.  Waiting, wanting, waning.

I thought about the dinner.  Around nine last night we, that is, Rachel and I walked with Maggie to a swank restaurant close by, dressed to kill and die for, Rachel even wore heels which she never does.  It’s nice to play dress up and go out on the town, to down champagne in a fine place where everyone is smiling.  We huddled at the corner of the bar, waiting for our table, wondering what to drink.  It’s important to start the night off with the right drink, especially tonight.  I shamefully picked an amber ale, not even on tap, while Rachel and Maggie got the sales pitch for a champagne cocktail, something with top shelf bubbly and raspberries.  Rachel allowed me a sip, just one, and it was everything the waitress said it would be, a rare moment where advertising meets expectations.  Our table was ready and we took our drinks to a booth in the back, close to the restrooms and quiet.  We ordered fondue served with apple slices and bread, Rachel got a salad, I ordered something with meat and potatoes, and Maggie… I forget.  The night gets foggy from here.  I remember the food was excellent and then I had another bourbon with bitters and a slice of blood orange while Rachel and Maggie were going into their third raspberry champagne elixir.  I sipped bourbon the rest of the night and even with the heavy meal I was feeling buzzed.

Each of the drinks came with a little plastic animal hanging from the rim of the glass.  By the time I noticed just how drunk we were we had a zoo, two monkeys were mine, the other ten animals (four neon green gazelles, a lone blue elephant with half a trunk, two pink wolves, and three yellow monkeys) were split evenly between the women and they were trying their best to conceal just how drunk they were.  I was feeling pretty good myself and I sipped the last bit of bourbon and chewed on the slice of blood orange.  I gathered up the animals and Rachel slapped her credit card on the check that appeared out of thin air.  Rachel got up to use the restroom and I watched, hoping she wouldn’t fall flat on her face.  She made it to a short line of other tipsy young ladies waiting their turn, no longer smiling, just waiting and leaning hard against the wall, watching the ladies’ room door.  We had decided not to stay for the countdown and I was glad the plan was still sticking because the night was losing its original handsome luster.  The check vanished and returned, just in time for Rachel’s return.  She signed and complained to me that her phone wasn’t working.  I picked it up.  Her phone was vibrating and wouldn’t stop.  The screen was dark.  I knew she had dropped the cell into the toilet and she was too guarded to admit she was that drunk.

Outside, Rachel made me stop so she could gauge if her heels would be too painful for the trek home.  She decided to go barefoot and balanced against a divider separating the outside seating section from the sidewalk so she could take off her heels.  She lifted one heel off and I heard Maggie yell a warning.  Rachel fell into me and I was thrown back.  Our fall echoed all around Wilshire Boulevard.  The partition Rachel had held onto was now lying on top of her legs.  She removed one leg and whimpered.  The partition was not bolted to the sidewalk and I don’t know why I assumed that the part wall, part garden partition for the restaurant’s outdoor seating area would be secured to the sidewalk, but as I looked into Rachel’s watering eyes I couldn’t believe it.

I picked up the partition with Maggie’s help.  Rachel screamed, the leg she hadn’t moved didn’t look right.  Underneath the gardening soil from the partition and the increasing flow of blood I could see bone, a tiny sliver of white jutting out of her knee.  The people inside were pointing, laughing, and trying not to stare at the drunk people and their antics.  They couldn’t see what had happened now that the partition was back in place.  Maggie called 911 and I held Rachel’s hand.  I never thought I could see pain, but I saw it where I usually saw love in Rachel’s eyes.  Watery, intense, and blind.  I don’t think she could see me.  Her broken leg held her hostage.  I thought it was an awful thing for a body to do.  Pain was a message and Rachel had received it loud and clear and it was time for it to go away, but it wasn’t.  I helped her sit up and held her hair back as she puked next to me.  She gasped and said something to me, but her words were drowned out by the siren, the first of many to come.  Two paramedics climbed out of the back and pushed me aside.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t be like last year.”  Said one of the medics, the younger one, and his hard-boiled partner looked at him like it was already a long night.  The younger medic asked Rachel basic health related questions, allergies, that sort of thing.
“Make any New Year’s resolutions?”  He asked with a forced smile.  I appreciated him trying to cheer her up, but it wasn’t making anything better.  The older medic grunted, a sign for the rookie to shut up.

I sit in a chair next to Rachel’s hospital bed.  My mind comes full circle as I look up at the setting full moon, the cold light dying out and the sun only hours away from making its first appearance this year.  Rachel sleeps soundly, she’s going to miss the sunrise, but that’s fine.  Her leg is hoisted up and in a cast.  It wasn’t as bad as it had looked and from the hustle in the hospital I can tell hundreds of people are discovering they are getting much worse from the coming year.  I stroke Rachel’s hair and she murmurs in her sleep.  I wonder if she did have a resolution.  What would I resolve to do this year?  I thought about it while watching the revolving red lights from the ambulances.  The spinning lights cast Film Noir shadows across the hospital room in red waves.  I wouldn’t want to start over, to repeat anything, I had no regrets.  I made my resolution with no witnesses in the pale lunar glow and the swirling lights of emergency vehicles.  I resolved to do what I could, to keep trying, and to make the best of what I couldn’t control.  I would tell Rachel in the morning what I thought.  She would like it.  You couldn’t promise yourself so many specific things, only promise yourself you’d try to roll with the chaos, try to make some warmth in the light of a cold moon.

Daughters, Lock Up Your Mothers

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn makes you question all the things your mother did while you were growing up.  Were her deeds in the name of love? Did she nurture your best character, or was her love designed to feed her selfish needs using you as social currency?  Sharp Objects takes a look at a kind of love that turns life into a currency used for one’s own superficial survival.

Camille, a journalist, uses people to get to the story that her readers feed on, since she reports on crime, her stories feed her audience’s vicarious need to see a world no one wants to be a part of, but still desire a glimpse.  Through reporting she carves vicious images into her readers through her words just as she literally cuts words into her own skin.  Right as she is ready to heal from her troubled past, a crime develops  in her Missouri hometown.  Flynn tells the story from Camille’s point of view, and Camille is constantly fighting between her desire to leave people alone and her job where she must invade the personal space of families, witnesses, and suspects in order to tell the story.  Camille chooses to disconnect people from their humanity and dissolve them into an element of her story.  Even as she means well, her devotion to the story ends up victimizing people already in a state of grief and fear over a very real murder.

Camille’s mother, aptly named Adora, is hard to pin down from the start, but her motives become clear through well-timed discoveries on Camille’s part that unveil the crime she’s reporting on and also her own past.  Is her mother trying to hide knowledge of the crime?  Or is she merely cold towards Camille because she is the black sheep of the family.  Adora’s love is closely guarded and is paid out with a miser’s view of what she’s getting in return.  Through Adora you begin to understand where Camille got her manipulative skills for journalism and her fight to hold herself to a higher degree of moral behavior begins to take its toll in alcohol, flesh that begs to be cut, and a past that has more and more to do with the present as Camille digs deeper.

Flynn’s pacing and timing for character reveals is just as thrilling as in Gone Girl.  The mechanics of Sharp Objects run smoothly.  From Camille’s festering word-scars interjecting into her thoughts, to twists in the plot that I never saw coming but in retrospect were hidden within character actions, Sharp Objects tells a solid thriller in a familiar detective story frame work.  What makes Flynn’s story fresh is her calculated deconstruction of love and the social bonds we hold so dear in our everyday lives.  After reading Sharp Objects you might feel better being alone because we are only condemned for our good deeds and our victims remain mute witnesses, unconscious or dead.

Grab some bandages and rubbing alcohol.  You will get paper cuts on this fast, disturbing read.

The Foundation

After you get so many rejection notices you decide you don’t need anyone’s permission to have your work read.  Worse than rejection is getting no feedback in return, the worst part about submitting is you more often than not are left with the echoes of your own doubts.  You begin to believe not sending out your material is the same as sending it.

I didn’t quit my day job.  I just needed a space of my own in the void.  For years I sent synopsis of screenplays and short stories.  Most of my query letters never got a response from the bottomless pit where they dropped.  Serious writers hate asking gatekeepers for permission, just as nature abhors a vacuum because what you send out there rarely returns.  Sometimes months, or even years later, you get a response.  These responses are often vague rejections, terse and disconnected, like garbled radio messages from deep space probes.  You can blame the millions of other writers trying to talk to the same probes.

An adequate analogy for reclusive artists is found in the end of Kafka’s The Trial, where K is told the allegory of a man sitting beside an open door guarded by a knight.  The man waits all his life for permission to enter, but it was his choice to go through the door on his own.

I’m going through my door, into a house I’ve built on a foundation of influence and obsessions.  It’s a dark place and I’m not alone.  It’s only half hollow here.  The first thing I do is turn on a light to mark my place and shout into the foyer, “Don’t leave, yet, I just got home!”