My girlfriend Sashi used to hate it when film crews used her neighborhood to film. She hated it because her neighborhood was quiet—and then come all these film people noising it up, blocking roads, leaving colored tape everywhere. But mostly she hated that she was the insider, and they were the outsiders, and shooting a film was their pass to become tourist in her neighborhood, where she was a native.
Also: Sashi went to film school. And somehow that figured into her hatred of film crews.
I went to film school too. Sashi’s was in New York. Mine was in LA. She studied lighting. She liked to be on crew. I studied directing. If I never pick up another light or calculate line voltages in my head it will be too soon. I think Sashi held it against me that I liked the heady work while she preferred the grunt work. Sashi was smart enough to direct. To write. She considered it more pure to haul cord, to respond to the cinematographer barking orders. When she worked on a movie, she preferred not to read the script. She and her fellow crew members would go to Starbucks ☕️ after filming and talk philosophy—not the casual kind that most people talk, but real philosophy, the kind that to keep up with you had to have read every last work by Derrida. They didn’t want to know anything about the movie: Their way of filmmaking was pure. The less they knew the better.
This story I’m about to tell you took place over one weekend in September (or maybe October). It was senior thesis week and as a director I didn’t have any interest in helping out some classmate by holding the boom microphone—which is what I liked to do when I was required to be on someone else’s set. Much for the same reasons Sashi worked lights: I could be there and not be there. Just get the mic in the right place and my brain could wander to infinite places other than here.
I lived right up the street from my school. Three blocks. And right between block two and block three was a restaurant with no name (as is popular in LA). It had a black door and a red carpet and I had never been inside but I had walked past it every day for a year and on Sunday and Thursday the red carpet was rolled out. If I got drunk my apartment was one block up the hill. I could walk there and see the homeless man sleeping on a couch someone had literally thrown out their window. Hollywood is like that: Lamborghinis and rich people live on the same street as homeless ones. There is no plan to help the homeless ones. They wander, move, die.
I had seen people enter the restaurant with no name. In couples or quads, guys and girls, all dressed up. And disappear behind the door into relative blackness.
Now I stand here, ready to knock—realizing what a silly gesture that is—and I’m not dressed up, instead wearing my brown cargo pants that I used to swear by as a film person (due to the extra—the third—side pocket almost to the cuff at the bottom of the pants). I’ve never seen that pocket before or since. Only on the ones sold in a surplus shop on Hollywood B.
I pull open the door, walk a few steps in. I almost leave because no one is there. The tables are stood on top of each other like they stand when a restaurant crew closes for the night. There was a bar—no one at it, no one behind it. I look around the place:
I see a bar with nine stools. An area in the back with a stained-glass skylight. Tiles on the floor underneath that: Forming the structure of a wave, patterns never lost on me. I think about texting my film school buddy but decide I want to be alone. At the top of the Ave is the Alto Nido building, where I live. Sashi lived with me for a while. Then I threw my phone across the room, shattering it, glass everywhere. Then I kicked her out. I feel bad about it but me throwing that phone was the last in a line of incidents tracing us from Arizona to Ohio and then to LA. I have never met anyone who made me as mad as that girl.
Other than the skylight, there were no windows in this place. The ceiling was packed with cinema lighting, stage lighting. Even underneath the floor, which was glass block, a parade of colors went by as though I was standing on a river.
I sat at the bar, put my laptop bag on the floor, leaning against my stool. Maybe there was an underground chamber and that’s where everyone who comes through that door went to..some Alice in Wonderland in the basement or sub basement where all the kids in Hollywood (not the students, not the ones without money) would go to dance and hook up and go home and fuck and come back next Sunday or Thursday and ignore everyone they had taken home before.
“Excuse me”—that was the bartender.
I smile in a familiar way, as though we know each other.
“Is this place open?”
“We open at seven, actually.”
“Do you have a kitchen?”
“Yes,” he says deeply. “I’ll get you a menu.”
“That’s ok,” I say. “Do you have a rib eye?”
“Yes sir we do.”
“I’d like a rib eye. Extra rare. With blue cheese crumbles on top.”
“Sure thing,” he says.
“Also? Could I have Serrano peppers and two eggs over easy on top of that blue cheese?”
“Sure thing? You want a drink?”
“Yes, a glass of Syrah if you have it.”
“We have it! Totally. We have it. I guess it’s ok if you sit here. There’s a party later.”
“I’ll be out of here by then,” I say (having no intention to leave).
The bartender pours me a generous glass of wine in a glass with a thin lip (important if you’re me). He goes into the kitchen.
I flip through my phone book. Not that far from the start. I pretend to consider each name, each number, but really I’m looking for a certain name all along—and it’s near the beginning: Baker, my fuck buddy from Ohio. Don’t ask me why I picked Baker. It may have had something to do with my having picked up a sandwich bag of cocaine a few days ago, and something in me knew that Baker had done cocaine—or could help me with her sexy words. My sex with her was the best ever—she said our sex was amazing. After our second bout of soap-suds squishy sex on the floor of my apartment in Ohio, she said, “It’s not that our sex is amazing. I just always wanted to know what it was like to have sex with a genius.”
I refrained from asking her what that was like.
Now in LA, in my empty restaurant, I called her.
“Well look who it is,” she says.
“Hey, pretty girl.”
“So what’s going on?”
“I’m on a coke binge and I need a break.”
“So you called me! Ha ha.”
“Have you ever done it?”
“Matt. You will not believe your synchronicity with me and my house right now! We—me and my roomie Brooklyn—we just got this house. To rent. And we are breaking it in with a whole weekend of coke. The whole weekend. You know what I think would be great?”
“If I fly to Dayton and participate in your coke weekend?”
Then Baker’s voice: “Would you?”
“Oh please! Could you?”
“Oh my god we could do coke and have sex all weekend!”
“Ok!” I say. “Tell me about this house.”
“I will,” she says. “Brooklyn and I live here—the lease is in our name. My grandmom lives here. And Brooklyn’s boyfriend name of Rambuncto is getting out of jail on Saturday.”
“They let people out of jail on Saturday?”
“You’re my smart boy. As in: Anyone else would have asked me What is he in for? but you ask Will they let him out on Saturday?”
“Well: What is he in for?”
“Assault. On a stranger in a Walmart.”
“Is he guilty? I mean: Did he do it?”
Baker’s laugh gets two steps louder. “I’m pretty sure he’s guilty, yeah.”
“Is he gonna be there this weekend?”
A pause from Baker.
“Matthew, don’t worry about it. Rambuncto may talk some shit but he’s harmless.”
“Not to the person in Walmart.”
“Don’t worry about it, Matthew. You spend so much of your head worrying it’s a miracle you’re not losing brain celluloid whenever you wake up. Come over. Can you afford it? I can send you money if you can’t afford it.”
“I can afford it.”
“Ok, good. ‘Cause I can’t really afford it.”
We both laugh.
“And I have enough money for coke,” I say.
“Ok, this is what I think we should start with, whenever you get here: an eight ball,” Baker says. “Then we can get more eight balls when we run out. I don’t know if you remember, but I always wanted to get a Snoop Baby Babe and—guess what?—I have one—Well, Brooklyn does. Do you want me to tell you his name?”
“Hold up. Before that. Is Rambuncto—? Is Brooklyn—? I mean, are they ok?”
“You’ve met Brooklyn before.”
“Did she go to Colonel White?”
“She went to Stivers. She’s fine. Don’t worry! The house is cool, ok? Say The house is cool.”
“I just wanna—”
“SAY THE HOUSE IS COOL!!”
“Ok. It’s cool. The house is cool.”
“We’re gonna have so much fun when you get here, Matt. We’ll fuck all weekend. I know you like that slippy little soap suds fucking we do. Look. I gotta go.”
“Can you pick me up from the airport?”
“Guess what the new baby’s name is. Just text me the details. What’s Brooklyn’s baby’s name? Baby hurry ‘cause I gotta go.”
“I don’t know. What’s its name?”
“Faulkner.” She lays it out like carpet.
“Why did she name him that? Has she ever read any Faulkner?”
“I gotta go, my wayward king! Brooklyn says we have a dead-ish baby in the crib room. I gotta go wake ‘im up.”
“Alright, girl—” I say, but the line goes dead.
Just then the bartender returns with my steak. It is cooked extra rare. With two eggs, blue cheese, and jalapeño peppers instead of Serranos. I decide to eat it anyway.