‘Sup homie. How you livin’? It’s your boy Seven here, with another Frowback Friday offering for your pre-weekend perusal. It’s part 2 of Chapter 17 from my semi-autobiographical meh-moir titled “The Suburbs of Babylon.” If you’re not caught up, you can scroll down my homepage for previous excerpts…
“I don’t have caller I.D. This means that whenever the phone rings, I suffer through wondering if it could be Jane. Sometimes I’m too terrified to even pick up the phone, though I can’t say whether it’s because I fear it might be her or that it might not be. Sometimes I don’t know which is worse. Not that it happens often. I mostly get calls from creditors and telemarketers. Except occasionally, something unusual happens to shake things up. Let me explain.
I have recently discovered something quite disturbing about my phone number. Apparently, it is only one number off from the phone number to the front desk of a nearby convalescent home for the aged and feeble. I know this because every once in a while I will come home and find a message on the machine from a geriatric stating his or her name, room number, and breakfast order. Last night at 2 a.m. an old codger named Ira called to ask for three scrambled eggs, dry toast, and orange juice. A couple times I’ve been home to answer the phone. Both times, it took several attempts to explain before the poor old wrecks realized they had dialed wrong. Once I came home to find a frantic message from Irma, the woman in room 212 who said she had fallen and needed help. She sounded frantic, terrified, and out of breath. I was momentarily anxious, as I could do nothing to help her. I know my number is only one digit off from the front office number, but I don’t know which digit is the infamous misdialed one. I momentarily considered trying to dial every possible seven-digit combination, hoping for a lucky break, and informing the office staff of the crisis in 212 before erasing the message and going to sleep. As much as I wanted to be the hero, this was only another reminder that in a world of desperate situations, my good will is nothing more than wasted desire.
* * *
Today is Sunday, and I did something out of the ordinary. I went to church.
I suppose I went because, in my search for what eludes me, in all of the driving and running in circles and alcoholic benders, a small voice from my past, from those days of walking to the chapel from the orphanage, kept whispering that I was barking up the wrong tree. I suppose that was why I went, to see if there was something I had overlooked or ignored the first time around. But I told myself it was out of boredom.
I chose one I’d never been to before. It was a large, beautiful church on Mulholland with a view of the entire Valley through giant glass windows. I wondered how anyone could concentrate on the sermon with a view like that to gawk at. But it didn’t take long to realize that there was a better view—there were more beautiful women at this church than I had seen gathered in one place in my whole life. And what’s more, some of them were famous. Actresses, singers, pop stars—apparently this church is full of entertainment industry professionals. And after some careful observation, I surmised that a great many were not here to worship so much as to network. The place was a schmoozer’s goldmine. It was better than an A. A. meeting, which any actor will tell you, is the best place to meet people and advance your career. Needless to say, I wasn’t optimistic about the pastor’s preaching abilities.
Surprisingly, though, he did quite well. There was no fire and brimstone, no condemnation, no guilt trip. He spoke about a loving God who weeps with us in our grief, struggles with us in our trials, longs to know our hearts, and waits for us to call out to Him. That is of course when I tuned out, since I have no heart to give, and since I’m terrified that if I call out to anyone, there will only be dark, echoing silence, and began to take in the sight of the beautiful women around me. They were like living works of art. Not since Jane had I laid eyes on such pulchritude. For months I had fixed my eyes on strippers, concentrating on one body part, or one lucky glimpse of a silhouette, the toss of hair under a strobe light, ignoring the rest of her and the reality of what she was. But these women, they were different. They positively glowed.
Now, perhaps it was me projecting the light of Heaven on them because of where we were, or maybe it was the knowledge that I would never deserve to have one of them, being so low. Either way, I left there vowing never to return. As much as I wanted to believe in a God that would listen, the vision of those women mocked me and I slouched away ashamed and alone and longing for a drink.
* * *
The night after my church experience, I dreamt about Irma, the unseen damsel from the retirement home. In my dream the phone rang, I picked it up, and she began pleading for me to send help, that she’d fallen down and couldn’t reach the bed, please, please help. This is Irma in 212. Please. Please. I woke up with a start and looked at the phone. For a moment, I couldn’t decide if it was a dream or if it really happened.
Irma haunts me. I keep envisioning her on the floor in a small room somewhere, waiting for help that won’t come because she pressed the wrong button on the phone. It makes me wonder if that’s my mistake as well. If I’m calling for help from the wrong source. If I’m dialed in to a deaf ear. But who am I kidding. I’m not trying to find help anymore. I’ve accepted my misery. I’ve fallen, and I won’t get up.
It took a long time to fall back to sleep.”
Now that I live in Thailand, my dreams are benign. I dream of beaches, of travel, and of lithe, golden-brown women with long dark hair. Coming here really did cure what ailed me all my young life. But I’m glad for this record—this whiney recount of my past despair. It only sets in stronger contrast the bliss of this life, this mostly-charmed life in the greatest country on Earth.