This story was read aloud at:
It was a good Friday night out with friends. But
somewhere in the middle, there was a reminder of anger from the past,
which my modern brain has understood and catalogued and inspected and
neutralized. But the reptilian, the old part of my brain, still
has something to say.
Nathan and I left our West Hollywood homes and walked
to Fat Burger for dinner. We discussed writing and travel and jobs and
money during dinner and while walking up La Brea in darkness. This was
when I started to take pictures. My new camera has a 3200 ISO setting
and the lens has image stabilization, which is the technical way of saying I
can take pictures in the dark now, without flash. We turned right
onto Hollywood Blvd and I took pictures. Pictures of Spiderman posing
outside the Chinese theatre. Pictures of the murals scattered down the
street. Pictures of sex
stores, and neon lingerie. And a picture
of two blurry men in front of three-foot wide lips gently sliding chopsticks
into her mouth, which obviously has no Freudian connotations.
The point of this journey was the Frolic Room at Hollywood
and Vine. My friend, who goes by the name Normal, is planning weekly trips
to visit dive bars in the Los Angeles area. Now the Frolic Room was once
a dive bar, but it is no longer. It is too clean, there are too many people
who do not look like alcoholics, there are not enough people who obviously cannot
live without a drink.
TJ was inside drinking and we hung about and friends
slowly started to trickle in, we discussed bars and alcohol and fire and camping.
At some point in the evening I was standing at the bar
waiting to order drinks and I scanned the area. As a former bartender I
looked at how the bottles were placed, what type of cash register, where the
ice and speed rack were and then at a sticker on the tip jar.
When I saw the sticker I felt the hairs rise on my arms
and a sudden feeling of tension in my fingers.
It was a white two inch square sticker with a grinning
orange Cheshire cat and said “I LOV your smile” with the e missing
from the word love.
It was twenty years ago, and I was sixteen. You
should know something about me at the age of sixteen, I was five foot six, ninety-eight
pounds and a complete wimp. Because I was easy to pick on, I found the
being invisible the best thing to be. I spent my time in the school library
and avoided confrontation at all cost.
I had just turned sixteen was it was time for the drivers
license test. The tester and I drove off in my mothers Ford Fiesta. I
don’t remember the tester, I think it was a woman, but I can’t be
sure, but we did the drive around the block and parallel parked and all the other
things and I did good. Maybe a point here or there, but I knew I would
pass. The last thing before pulling into the DMV in San Clemente was a
right off PCH at a traffic light. I had a right turn lane and a red light,
the cars across the way making the left had a green arrow.
Now theoretically speaking the cars making their left
would stay in the left lane, and I making my right would pull into the right
lane and we would all be happy driving off in our two lanes. But the first
car was a large Cadillac and does what most people do while making a left turn,
they did not stay in the left lane but allowed the momentum of the turn to pull
them into the right lane.
Then the next car and the next car did the same thing. Once
they passed I pulled into the DMV and parked. The tester said I failed. I
couldn’t understand. The tester said I failed because I had not forced
the issue with the Cadillac. The Cadillac had taken my right of way, and
I was supposed to force the issue. I was supposed to push my little Fiesta
into the roadway and force the Cadillac to stay in his left lane. The Tester
deducted thirty points, ten for each car that had cut into my lane.
I was furious. Timid little me began yelling at
the tester. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it had to do
with trying not to get hit by a Cadillac, and it might have strayed into a discussing
of her mental facilities. The tester left and I had to go inside the DMV
to do some paperwork. And still steaming, I walked out the building and
someone handed me a sticker that had a grinning Cheshire car and it read “I
LOV your smile”.
I ordered my gin and tonic and a couple beers and walked back
to my friends who were picking
music from the jukebox, and the anger was gone
as fast as it came. But my mind started to analyze, to think about the
stupid government bureaucrat, the horrors of the movie Brazil, the stupidity
of making a sticker without the e on the word love, and the difference between
the deep seated fear that arises from the ancient part of our brain and the modern
intellectual part that we think can control it.
I was standing near my friends, daydreaming, when Normal
told me she wanted a picture of her in the bathroom, she wanted a picture of
her in all the dive bar bathrooms. So they watched the door, while I photographed
Normal on the toilet, and somehow she looked like Hunter S. Thompson.
And I am not sure which part of my brain enjoyed that.