The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 14

Happy Friday, reader. Fridays are my chosen day to throwback—or “frowback,” yes revel in the throes of that cleverness—to the history of events that brought me inevitably to Thailand. One convenient source of that history is my oft maligned and barely tolerable tome of mediocrity known as “The Suburbs of Babylon.” So, I’ve been publishing a chapter or so per week, hoping to in time vomit the entire manuscript onto the Web. So in that endeavor, here’s the next segment…

“Chapter Fourteen

We are all in some way or another going to Reseda, someday, to die.—Soul Coughing


            A brief spurt of subbing jobs has put some cash in my pocket and even a chunk in the bank, so for the time being I’ve moved out of Mitch’s motel and into Art’s house where he’s letting me rent a room for next to nothing.  Now, at least, I have space to paint.  I’m a new citizen of the town of Reseda, a whopping four miles from where the orphanage used to be, right smack in the middle of the Valley.  If L.A. were a person, I’m fond of saying, I live in the armpit.

Sometimes the act of existing, the mundane part of it, the simple part, the routine—waking up, eating, cleaning oneself, moving about the geography, speaking, breathing, thinking, sleeping—is so unbearable, so sarcastically, pitifully sad, so useless, so frivolous, redundant, embarrassingly foolish, vain, that the idea of the knowledge and purpose of such activities begins to smear or smudge in a way that can make one believe that there is no sane reason for anything—even the idea of a reason for something.

I am fading.  I know I’ve said it before, the existentialist ideal ringing in my words like a cuckoo clock, but I can’t stop harping on it because the situation keeps getting worse.  The events that make up the life I live, which in turn define who I am, have begun to blur.  In the last few weeks, which blew by like minutes, I have been back to Mexico twice.  One trip was the one I just wrote about, with the girl and the frat boys and Alvin taking the credit for my actions.  The second trip was marked by my waking up one morning in a sticky puddle of strawberry margarita mix, covered with ants.  Except for this, there are no significant things to report.  Nothing of consequence.  Not a thing.

I’m about to describe what seems to me to be a widespread human cycle:  the opting for the lower standard in the face of nothingness.  I’m speaking of course of the second and third-choice females whom I call when I am so lonely that I pray for the walls of my room to implode upon me.  Pathetic.  Unavoidable.  Uncontrollable for one as lost as myself.  I have accumulated a throng of such creatures, most of them hangers on from my girl-wrecking days.  One just recently broke free.  She wrote and said she was tired of being used by me, wanted to never speak to me again, but still cared deeply and truly.  My reaction to this is something akin to radio static.

I wish I could keep from running to these girls.  But I find that when I don’t, I merely stare into space and ponder just why my heart is so poisoned by the thought of Jane.  If I didn’t force myself to feign an actual life, it would be my only preoccupation.  I would never leave my room.  And all around me, I see the same thing.  People can’t have who or what they want, so they settle for whatever devoted fool happens to be there.  Sometimes I think Jane settled for me.  The girl I settle for now gives herself to me, then goes home and cradles her cat.  I’ve no idea what the cat goes to when the girl is not around.

This particular young woman, the one I’m allowing to distract me for the moment, is an innocent.  At least as far as I can tell.  She approaches the world with a wide-eyed excitement that I can only describe as quaint.  She moved here from Minnesota a month ago and knows almost no one.  We met in a wine specialty store where she approached me and asked for help in finding a good Australian red.  She had a long, lean frame, over which she draped a soft yellow sundress.  She had light brown hair, blue eyes, and a scatter of brown freckles on her shoulders.  I proceeded to give her a tour of the entire wine section, complete with a lecture on regions and varietals, and how different oaks bring out differing flavors in the wine.  She asked if she could make me dinner, and I gratefully accepted.  Since then we’ve gone to the Getty museum, the beach, a movie, and even the Cat once.  It was her idea, too.  What goes on between us is a kind of denial.  She denies that she wants anything more from me than the humor and cold company I provide, and I deny that I can never give my heart to her.  This will be short-lived, and I can feel it fading as the seconds pass.

I’m tempted here to get into a childish attempt to explain the difference between the concepts of having sex and making love, a pursuit as futile as contrasting the states of “love” and “in love.”  Arguments which inevitably leave one right back where one started.  But, truth be told, there was definitely a difference between what went on with Jane and what transpired with everyone else.

Maybe I’m lying to myself that I have loved, or can love.  Maybe I’ve never loved anyone and I’m simply too much of a fool to know what I’m experiencing.  Or perhaps the explanation is as simple as this ideal:  I am finding my soul.  Which sounds even more ridiculous than the fantastical notion of being in love.  I only know that, in watching the fervent way in which Jane threw herself at anything or anyone that distracted her from herself, and remembering the way I’ve devoured girls in the past, I think I can see a small pattern of growth in my knowledge of things.  What Jane is searching for, I have caught a glimpse of.  I don’t know what it is yet, but it has something to do with my worth and who is worthy of my love.  And love-making.  And here’s a secret:  Jane is not worthy.

And of course, neither is my newest playmate, who has already given up and gone.  I let her go without so much as a kiss goodbye.

*    *    *

            I am at Zuma Beach, lifeguard station 6, on the most perfect day I have ever witnessed down here.  The Pacific is churning in an onshore wind, an emerald kaleidoscope.  Visibility is so clear that I can see all the way down the coast to LAX and the dark mass of Catalina and some neighboring channel island.  There is an aircraft carrier many miles out, slowly disappearing below the horizon.  The bright green hills above PCH seem to cut into the candy-blue sky; the affect is hypnotic, surreal.  The mountains are littered with yellow and white daisies and little purple blossoms, the name of which I don’t know.  The expanse of beauty around me is almost too much, though I keep thinking that if someone, some wonderful woman were here to share it with me, it all would be just right.

I wish that wasn’t the case.  I wish I could be content alone, to experience this beauty, this life fully and be satisfied in just myself.  And I suppose there are people out there who can do that.  But I feel like I’ve been alone forever.  Even my various female companions over the years, even Jane, could only instill brief moments of fulfillment, or worth.  Sometimes I wonder whether the purpose of my life isn’t simply to waste away in a room in Reseda, scribbling these words for no one to read, painting paintings that no one will see, a wasted heart within my chest full of the desire to love, and yet empty.

*    *    *

            In news of other fronts, I have recently taken up spending time with Cris.  I ran into her on a fluke, in s supermarket parking lot.  This event came off less dramatic than you might think.  We don’t wax nostalgic—the weight of our lives, the dissatisfactions we both have, the emptiness, being enormous.  She left her husband, and moved to a suburb near the peninsula.  I say nothing about it.  There is a weary understanding that goes between us unsaid.  We each take courage in the other, and there is almost an understanding that we both would have been better off if we’d stayed together.  But it is fleeting.  We know that love and knowledge are seeded in pain, and it does no good to look back at what might have, could have, or should have been.  Even so, we enjoy one another’s company, in a detached semi-coherent way.

Even as I speak of it, though, I can’t help wondering about the change—from the desperate love-longing for Cris to the vague, glassy, medicine-like feeling of—God knows what you call it—getting over her, I guess.  Time healing the wound and all that.  Or it could just be that I cover the pain of one failed love with the newness and eventual pain of another in an endless cycle.  I don’t want to think about it too much.  But I look back at the times when Cris and later Jane have had me in the throes of agony.  And now I think that without consciously resurrecting it, I would not have even remembered, at least not as vividly, the pain of those times.  In fact, without the words in these pages, I would probably recall Cris like the scar of a mosquito bite on the back of my arm.  I read through the beginning of this comedy and am amazed at what I thought I felt for the girls I ran across.  It is both sickening and laughable.  Yet these must have been times of growth, of change.  There must be some indelible mark left by those experiences.  Something I don’t see yet, but will somehow help me get some life question right, right?  I secretly hope it will give me the magic formula for coaxing peace from its hiding place.  At worst, I hope it will teach me how to avoid such pain in the future.

Changing the subject, I’m falling deeper into debt.  I have food on my table and can afford some amenities—necessary ones, like dollar bills for the ladies at the Cat, but it’s strange having money.  I sometimes think I liked it better when I was broke, since I seem to continually spend a few hundred more each month than I actually have.  Damn the credit cards.  But for now, it’s enough to keep my mind occupied, and that’s worth a little debt.  I’m thinking I have to take a trip somewhere.  Maybe I’ll jump in the car and drive up the coast.  I’ve got an urge to see San Francisco and go wine tasting in Napa.  Plus there’s everywhere in between:  Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Monterey.  So many beaches I could go crazy.“

It’s easy to see how a beach bum like myself could end up in Thailand—home to some of the best coastline in the world. It’s also easy to see why, when all I got for my trouble pursuing women in Cali was a metaphorical kick in the crotch, I chose to come here. Beaches and bitches—it’s a win-win. Swing by on Sunday for the weekly, and cheers to another week above ground in the greatest country on Planet Earth: Thailand.