I fight back the tears as soon as I leave my friends’ house. Not an emotional wreck but something is bubbling up. I need to keep some semblance of control. I don’t want the person on the other side of the gas pump island to freak out. What’s his problem? Not that she notices me at all. It’s a quick pit stop. She’s on her way to work or to fight for a parking spot while doing last-minute Christmas shopping.
I restart the car. Colbie Caillat, that hippy chick from Malibu sings “Realize”, adding to the Southern California ambience. They really like her here. She sang “Brighter Than the Sun” as I parked under a palm tree on a quick grocery run after my plane landed at LAX three days ago.
My eyes well up again as I merge onto the 405, heading toward Santa Monica. It’s fatigue, I tell myself. A college bowl game, a day at Disneyland, sleeps in strange beds,...so many excuses. Except on this morning I feel more rested than I have in months. Apparently that smoggy L.A. air is good for my soul. I drive down windy Sunset Boulevard towards Pacific Palisades, the chic village between Santa Monica and Malibu where I used to live in a bright pink multi-unit building now blanched white. At least the ever-blooming bougainvilleas remain to cover most of the lower facade.
For a year, this was my haven. I could access all that Los Angeles had to offer and then retreat to this sleepy neighborhood where nannies chauffeured impeccably dressed toddlers in the newest Mercedes models. I cannot spot any caregivers today. Maybe they’ve been given a few days off for Christmas. Maybe they are the ones tasked with scouring The Beverly Center to pick up an extra something now that Uncle Lloyd is bringing his new girlfriend to the turkey dinner. I do not see any children at all. The sidewalk is stroller free. Maybe there are Christmas and Hanukkah camps tucked away in one of the canyons to entertain the kiddies.
I am composed now as I type on my laptop in a Starbucks that didn’t exist in this space twenty years ago. What was it? A restaurant? Doesn’t really matter. Gone, forgotten. I am sandwiched between two other laptop users. As I gaze at toward Sunset two other men punch keys on their laptops. They’re all writers, aren’t they? This is Greater Los Angeles where everyone is working on a screenplay.
I peek to my left. They white guy with the ‘60s afro isn’t typing a thing. He’s surfing a police website after two officers approached him and directed him to stop smoking his tobacco pipe outside the neighboring retail space. He still simmers with anger. If he is a writer, his day is shot. One of the fellows across from me has stopped typing. He plays with the cursor, sips from an empty coffee cup. Writer’s block.
Maybe I have a shot. I must focus on my own work instead of (literally) looking over my shoulder. Do I want to return here? As evidenced only an hour earlier, I can be a little too fragile. I will face a lot of rejection. I will be summarily dismissed as the gray pokes through my dyed sideburns. My ego will be bruised and abused.
But I want this. My heart beats loud and fast. It may be the caffeine kicking in, but I prefer to attribute it to desire. Yes, I want this. I want my chance.
All of this feels right. It is home. I cannot move yet. The INS and the gloomy real estate market back home control the timing of my relocation. Still, this brief visit gives me resolve. In the meantime, I can write anywhere. As my own coffee is done, I am off to the other side of Sunset to settle in for a chopped salad at my old deli hangout. It used to be my Wednesday morning stop where I would load up on bottomless passion fruit iced tea and cheap buttermilk pancakes. The old awning is gone. The name has changed from Mort’s to Lenny’s. It is more upscale. Still, it remains a deli and there is just enough that is familiar to help me settle in. I have to rewrite the ending to my latest screenplay project. Having worked through the mixed emotions of returning here, it will be a productive day.