Venice

I believe California Can Save Me

I’m standing in a line in a hot carpark on Dell Street, Venice, California, waiting to have my photograph taken by a wardrobe person, when a tall young man in the line in front of me turns to me and starts up a conversation.
‘I really like your look,’ he tells me, ‘you got some style,’
‘Thanks,’ I smile and say.
‘I’d like to shoot you,’ he says.
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘really? Are you a photographer?’
‘Among other things, yeh,’ he says.
Then he tells me his name and I tell him mine and we shake hands.
‘I have, like, 14 thousand followers on Instagram,’ he says, ‘You should follow me’.
Then he asks me if I am free tomorrow for the photoshoot and after I tell him I am not sure, he continues to talk.
‘I’ve only been here for like a month,’ he says, tapping his chest and doing a subdued jig, ‘but things are really happening for me,’
‘Oh,’ I say, looking up at him with my arms folded, ‘that sounds good,’
Then he tells me he has just made a promotional video for a tattoo artist who is about to be a celebrity.
‘He’s folk now,’ the young man tells me, ‘but he’s, like, about go big,’
Then he holds up his iPhone and shows me a video of the tattoo artist being interviewed on a red carpet by a long-haired pretty teenager.
Then the young man, who is dressed in black track pants, a red tee shirt and ochre Caterpillar boots, tells me he has a manager who has gotten him some acting work, and that beside being a photographer, he also does stand up.
‘Oh, yes?’ I say.
‘Yeh,’ he says, tapping his chest again, and frowning, ‘I’m, like, a pretty funny guy,’
Then he tells me that even though he is only 21 years old, he has his own production company, and that he is self taught in everything that he does.
Next he tells me that he was living in West Hollywood, but that his roommate had started to act in a strange way.
‘He’s bisexual,’ the young man says, ‘which is cool because my uncle is, like, bisexual, but this guy was acting, like, like I was his wife,’
Then he looks at his iPhone again, scrolling up and down, looking for things to show me.
Firstly he shows my some images of him posing with his shirt off while 3 girls in very little clothing hang on to his various limbs.
Then he shows me a video.
‘Here’s a video I made of an androgynous,’ he says, and for the next few moments, we look at the screen of his iPhone where a person wearing a head scarf, is walking along a street in high heels, singing.
Finally the video finishes and hoping that I can get away from the young man, I tell him that I am hungry and that I’m going to get some food.
But the young man says he needs to put on a few pounds and that he’ll come with me.
And so we then stand in front of the french fry tray and, while dipping the tip of his french fries one by one in ketchup, the young man tells me more about himself.
‘I’m like excellent at imitations. Like, after about half an hour with someone I can sound exactly, like, like them,’ is one of the things he tells me.
And that he has a friend whose uncle is a big Hollywood agent who has taken an interest in him.
‘Have you heard of him?’ he asks me.
Hoping that soon the young man will stop talking to me, I don’t respond, and instead I, while I eat my french fries from a paper plate, I stare out into the car park, to the spot where the portable toilet trailer is parked.
‘I’m a good salesman,’ says the young man, who has a wispy beard and acned cheeks, ‘I worked in car sales for like 4 years. And even though I’m, only 21, I was the manager,’
Suddenly, I realise I am clenching my jaw, so I tell the young man I am going to get coffee and I throw my paper plate in the bin and start to walk away while the young man continues his solo conversation.
‘Things are happening for me out here,’ the young man calls out to my back, ‘things are, like, really happening.’

 

 

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AIDS

ventrua

I’m on my way home from the supermarket, by foot, and I am just about to cross Ventura Boulevard when I see a short bald man holding a large white envelope running toward me.
‘OH MY GOD,’ shouts the man as he reaches me, ‘YOU’VE GOT GREAT ENERGY!’
‘Really?,’ I say, ‘do I?’
‘YES,’ shouts the man again, raising his arms as if I have just performed a hold-up on him, ‘you sure DO!,
Then, suddenly, he puts his right hand on my left shoulder, inhales, holds his breath for a moment or two,tilts his head forward, exhales and quietly says-‘I have AIDS’,
Then he purses his lips and nods his head up and down.
‘Shit,’ I say, frowning, ‘That’s very, very bad luck,’
Then the man opens his eyes.
‘Yes, yes it is,’ he says, looking into my eyes, ‘But don’t worry, you can’t catch it like this,’
‘No,’ I say, ‘I didn’t think I could,’
Then the man, who is wearing blue slacks and missing the front teeth on both his upper and lower jaw,takes his hand from my shoulder and pulls up the sleeve of his dark blue polo shirt.
I look down to see a bony shoulder on which grey hair grows in tufts, like seaside grasses.
‘I need some medication,’ the man says, holding the white envelope up to my face, ‘I need 36 dollars,’
‘Um,’ I say, ‘okay,’
Then, like a magician performing a cup and balls trick, the man makes the envelope disappear, and pulls up his shirt.
‘You see?’ he says, pointing to his abdomen, ‘I need suppositories,’
‘Oh,’ I say, bending to look at his distended abdomen.
‘You see?’ the man says again.
Then the man closes his eyes and is quiet.
I stare at his face, at his mouth that is closing and opening like a fish gasping on a river bank.
And there is a long quiet between us until I put my shopping bags down and tell him a lie – ‘I’m afraid I only have 5 dollars’,
The man opens his eyes and pokes his head forward like an emu.
‘Is that all?’ he cries as I hold 5 dollar note out toward him.
‘Yes,’ I tell the man who is now tsking me and fanning his face with the white envelope, ‘I’m afraid that really is all I have.’

El Salvador

pooledge

It’s approximately 12 midday, and 112 degrees, and I’m sitting in the hot tub trying to relieve some pain I have in my right shoulder blade, when a woman walks up to the tub, puts her right foot down on to the top step and calls down to me, ‘I’m not touching that hand rail. Not in this heat,’
The woman, who is wearing a floppy white raffia sun hat with a green band, black Jackie O-style sunglasses and a full piece red white and blue patterned bathing costume that features a skirt which makes her look like an inflated toddler, holds both her hands up in the air above the handrail, in a way that looks like the handrail has a gun and is conducting a stick up on her.
‘No,’ I say looking up at her, ‘metal conducts heat,’
‘Where are you from?’ she says to me as she moves her left leg down into the hot tub, placing it on the step next to her right, ‘is it England or Australia?’
I tell the woman I am originally from Australia but spent a good deal of time in England, thus the accent,’
‘I’ve never been,’ she tells me, pausing for a moment until she follows with, ‘Are you just here for the weekend?’
I tell her yes, I am here for the weekend and then the woman lets me in on some more information about herself.
‘I’m here for the union weekend,’ she says, offering me up the acronym of the teachers union she belongs to, ‘but we won’t be coming to this resort next year,’
Then she tells me that the resort isn’t unionized, and the resort they had held their conferences at before this one had been refurbished and had reopened without a union so they hadn’t been able to stay there, either.
‘We’re a union so it does not seem right to hold a union conference at a non-unionized facility. So we’ll probably hold the conference in L.A from now on,’ she lets me know, ‘which won’t be as much fun…but,’
Then she tells me she is getting a quick swim in during a break, that she had already eaten a sandwich.
Then, after she asks me what I do and I say artist, she tells me her boyfriend is from El Salvador and he too is in artist.
‘We’re going this fall break,’ she tells me of El Salvador, ‘he’s pretty well known there,’
Then the woman, who has now lowered herself down and stands on the second step of the hot tub, tells me that her boyfriend painted a big mural on the wall of an El Salvadorian airport, the name of which I don’t catch.
‘He’s spent most of his life in L.A,’ the woman says, while I watch her intently as she lowers her body fully into the hot tub,’ ‘Do you live in L.A now?’
I nod my head at the woman and say ‘uh-huh’.
Then the woman tells me a few more facts about her and her boyfriend until I interrupt her to tell her that shortly the timer will go off on the hot tub and the jets will cease and I point to the timer switch on the wall.
‘There’s the switch,’ I tell her, standing to leave the hot tub, unexpectedly uncomfortable with the woman and her questions and informational ways.
‘Yes,’ says the woman as she stares over at the hot tub timer switch on the wall, ‘it was nice talking to you,’
‘Goodbye,’ I say, not looking back, as I exit the hot tub.
And then I turn and look down into the hot tub, at the woman, and for some reason I lie and tell her it has been nice talking to her
‘Good luck,’ calls the woman in the white sun hat and red white and blue bathing suit, ‘with your life in L.A.’

Peter Green

petergreen

It’s Monday afternoon, about half past one, and I am approaching the gate that leads to the studio where I live, when I notice a man, standing to the right of the gate, where the large blue-lidded rubbish bin is stored.
The man is bending down and taking clothes out of a duffel bag and laying them out on the ground.
‘I’m looking around,’ the man stands up and calls out to me just as I reach my hand out to open the rusty wire and iron gate, ‘for somewhere to wash my clothes,’
‘Oh,’ I say, stopping so still that I feel like a statue with it’s hand on a gate, ‘I’m not sure where you can wash them around here,’
The man, who is tall and bald and dressed in a green track suit, black leather jacket and large black work boots asks me if I could give him something to eat.
‘Have you got anything for me to eat? he says, and I tell him no, that I can’t give him anything to eat.
‘I can’t give you anything to eat because I haven’t been to the supermarket myself,’ I tell the man.
‘But if you wait a minute,’ I say to him, ‘I’ll go and get you five dollars,’
The man thanks me and says ‘bless you’ twice, and I go through the gate and into the studio and get 5 one dollar bills.
While I am there I look in the bottom of the fridge and see there are 3 Babybell cheese laying there and I take out 2; One for me and one for the tall, sweaty-headed man who is looking for somewhere to wash his clothes and something to eat.
With the five one dollar bills in my right hand and the cheese in my left I go back out into the alleyway where the man shakes his finger at me, motioning me to come no closer.
I stand still and wait until he has spat a stream of frothy white liquid into the large rubbish bin.
‘Mouthwash,’ he says, ‘I’m cleaning up a bit,’
‘Oh, nice,’ I tell him and then I hand him the five dollar bills and his cheese.
He puts the money in his pocket and says thank you and then rolls the cheese around in his hand, as if it needs explaining.
‘It’s cheese,’ I tell him of the cellophane wrapped sphere, ‘Babybell. I’ve got one, too,’
And then I say ‘look’ and start to unwrap the cheese and he does the same and then we stand there without saying anything, unwrapping, peeling and then eating our Babybell cheese.
‘My name is Peter,’ the man tells me once his cheese is all gone, ‘Peter Green,’
I tell him my name and then we shake hands.
And then Peter Green starts to tell me other things.
‘I’m a percussionist,’ he tells me, ‘and a drummer. That’s my thing,’
‘Oh, right,’ I say, ‘nice,’
‘My mother has cancer,’ he says next, ‘and she’s 92 years old and she’s been having chemotherapy,’
I tell him I am sorry to hear that and then Peter Green asks me where in England I come from.
I lie and I say – ‘I’m from near Oxford,’
Then he tells me his mother is from Wales.
‘My mother is from Wales and my father is from Jamaica,’ says Peter Green as he leans forward and rubs his right hand over and over on the light grey stubble on his head, as if shaking something from his hair, ‘and I am walking back and forward everyday to my see my mother while she’s getting well,’
I tell him again I am sorry to hear about his mother and then he asks me if I have some work for him.
‘I am a good handyman. Do you have any work for me to do?’ asks Peter Green and I tell him no.
‘I am actually looking for full-time work myself,’ I tell him, and he asks me ‘What is it that you want to do?’
‘I don’t know,’ I tell Peter Green, and then I laugh a little bit, ‘I’m waiting for a divine sign,’.
But Peter Green doesn’t laugh.
Instead he tilts his head right back, his leather jacket opening across his chest as he out-stretches his arms like a runner crossing a finishing line.
He stands immobile and I slowly finish my piece of cheese while I wait and watch to see what he will do next.
Then suddenly Peter Green tilts his head forward, lets his arms drop and looks at me.
‘Things are going to get so much better for you,’ he tells me.
And he tells me he knows this because he can ‘feel it’.
Then he tells me they’re going to get better for him, too.
Then he reaches out and takes my left hand and softly kisses the back of it.
I smile at Peter Green and say ‘okay, that would be great for both of us,’
Then he let’s go of my hand and I tell him I need to go inside and have a shower.
‘Then bless you,’ says Peter Green softly, rubbing his head and waving his hand at me, ‘I’ll be looking out for you’.

The Hypnotherapist

Hypnotherapy

It’s what feels like 1250 degrees and I am sitting on some steps, under a tree, sunlight poking down on me, waiting for the Lyft to take me to the tattoo studio, when a man pulls up in a big black car, exits the car, and then stands on the footpath in front of me and says- ‘Wow, this is a really nice street,’
I tell him yes, and he says wow again and tells me it’s a beautiful street.
‘Such beautiful trees, so quiet,’ says the man who is very tall with dark sparse hair, a large stomach, and is wearing a white shirt, black pants and shoes and carrying a large brown paper bag,’
‘You should see some of the streets on the other side of the river,’ I tell him, gorgeous trees and very quiet,’
‘Uh huh,’ says the man, ‘where are you from, what’s that accent?’
I tell him Australia and he tells me he thought so, and that he had lived in Australia for a time.
‘I lived in Glen Waverly,’ he tells me after I have asked him where he lived, ‘and Clayton,’
He goes on to name a couple of other familiar places and I sit there in the dappled light, in the heat, wilting in my jeans and tee shirt, nodding my head.
‘Where are you from?’ I ask him.
‘Beirut,’ he tells me, ‘but we went to Australia for a while and then we came here,’
‘Nice,’ I tell him.
Then the man tells me he works for ADT Alarms as a salesman and then points to an ADT truck parked further up the street.
Then the man tells me he has another business that he’s trying to get off the ground.
‘I am a hypnotherapist,’ the man says.
‘Really?’ I say.
‘Yes,’ he says and then begins to tell me about a man whom he has just cured of smoking.
‘I specialise in smoking,’ the man says, ‘and I love when I have successes,’
Then I tell the man something that I can tell thrills him.
‘I trained as a hypnotist,’ I say, ‘and I have some very good friends who are hypnotherapists,’
‘Ooooohhhh,’ says the man, and holds his hand out toward me, ‘this is great. What is your name?’
I tell him mine and he tells me he his as we shake hands and smile at each other, bonding over hypnosis.
‘Are you a hypnotherapist or a hypnotist?’ I ask him.
‘Hypnosis is for the stage,’ he tells me, waving his hand, ‘but when you add some training it becomes therapy,’
Then he tells me he has certification and tells me who he trained with in the United Kingdom.
I tell him who I trained with and then he tells me I should start working as a hypnotist.
‘They’re slow in the US for this, but last night I spend three hours on a smoking client and I love it,’ he says, ‘I love the connection with people,’
I tell him this is the reason I trained, too, that I loved working with people and helping them out.
Then he tells me again I should start working and I tell him I love it but have trouble with confidence.
‘Maybe I should get some sessions from you,’ I tell him, smiling up at him from where I sit, ‘to help me out with my low self confidence,’
‘Yes, yes, of course,’ he says, ‘I’ll give you my card,’
He is shaking his head as he takes a card from his wallet and I am smiling at him.
‘You know, I was going to park down the street but I said to myself no, I will park here and now I meet you,’ he says, handing me his card.
‘Yeh,’ I say, ‘it’s a lucky meeting,’
‘Nothing happens for nothing.’ says the hypnotherapist, smiling and reaching out to shake my hand again, ‘Everything happens for something.’

Harmony

Harmony

I’m at Trader Joe’s, standing at the checkout waiting to be served, when a voice from behind me begins to count.
“1,2,3,4…yeh, you’ll be alright,’
I turn to see a very tall man wearing a golf visor, a white golf shirt with a golf logo on it, and a pair of golfer style chinos.
He has a gray beard and moustache and wire rimmed glasses and is carrying a basket which he tells me contains 11 items.
“I got 11 items in here, so if anyone should be in trouble it’ll be me, you’ve only got 4,’
Then he makes a joke about him being the aisle police.
‘Who do I think I am,’ he says, laughing, ‘the Trader Joe’s Aisle Police?’
I laugh at this too, and then, after standing there for a bit, exchanging a few words, he asks me where I am from.
‘So, where are you from?’ says the man, holding his basket by by the handles with 2 hands and swinging it slightly in front of him.
‘Melbourne,’ I lie.
‘I travelled to Sydney with Robert Goulet a long time ago,’ the tall man says, ‘remember him?’
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘was he that chef?’
‘No,’ the man says, laughing and tssking, ‘a singer. Robert Goulet was a singer,’
‘Oh, shit,’ I say, ‘yes, I know who you mean,’
Then I tell him sorry.
‘Sorry,’ I say, ‘I got Goulet and gourmet confused,’
Then, as I am putting my items down on the counter to be checked out, the man continues to talk to me.
‘Do you play golf?’ he asks.
‘No,’ I tell him, frowning.
‘I played in Australia, says the tall golfer, ‘and the guy there kept asking me, “you want to play 9 or 18 holes”?
Then he starts mocking the nasal whine of the Australian accent and saying – ‘I said, whaaaaaaa? I just want a  game of golf,’
I laugh at his imitation and so does he and then he says,- ‘Oh, I see you have the ‘F’ word on your arm,’ and I say yes and look at the back of my right arm where I have the word “fuck” tattooed.
Then I ask the man what his name is, and because I have already put my basket down, I shake the man’s hand when he tells me he is called Carl.
‘I’m a musician,’ says the tall golfing musician called Carl, ‘you should come hear me play,’
I say okay and he asks me if I like jazz.
‘You like Jazz?’ he says and I lie again and say yes, even though I think I would probably enjoy hearing Carl play it because Carl is very engaging, even in a supermarket.
Then, because I am interacting with the cashier by paying, and because he has overheard mine and Carl’s conversation, the cashier tells us he is a musician too.
‘I organise the open mic night over at the Tuning Fork, the restaurant right across the street,’ he says, pointing across the street.
Then Carl, who is smiling and still swinging his basket, calls open mic night karaoke, and the cashier isn’t happy.
‘Don’t say the “K” word around here,’ says the cashier who who has a wispy gray beard and moustache and gray hair pulled back into a pony tail, baring a sweaty forehead.
‘Oh, is that right?’ I say to the cashier as I pick up my bag of goods.
‘I’m a musician, too,’ says the cashier and then lists several pieces he has written, including an entire Country and Western musical.
‘Wow,’ I say to the cashier, who then lists a few more pieces of information about the open mic nights, times and so on.
And then, as I say thank you and start to leave the supermarket, Carl picks up his groceries which have now been bagged, and follows me out of the shop.
‘I’m going to give you my YouTube address so you can check me out,’ he says, resting his bag of groceries on top of a shopping trolley that is parked on the footpath, ‘have you got paper and a pen?’
I tell Carl that I do have paper and pen, and I take a small business-sized red card and a pen from the front of my dark blue Converse messenger bag and hand them to him.
After he has written his details I tell Carl I will now give him my details and I take another red card from my bag and write my phone number and website address on it and then hand it to him.
‘Have a look on the back of the card,’ I tell Carl as he takes it.
On the back is a drawing I have done of a small smiling man.
Written above his head is the word ‘Harmony’.
‘Appropriate for a musician,’ I tell Carl, and smile.
‘Yeh,’ says tall Carl, smiling now too, ‘very appropriate.’

Nine hundred

900 pills

I’ve just come back from the CVS pharmacy and am about to put the key in the lock of my front door when I hear ‘hello’ and turn to see my neighbour sitting on her front steps, a scrubbing brush in one hand and a small bucket of water to her right.
‘Hello,’ I say.
‘Hello,’ she says back to me, ‘don’t mind me, I’m just giving myself a pedicure because I’ve been camping for 4 days and my toes are filthy,’
Then she tells me she has been to a place called Sycamore, a place of exquisite natural beauty according to her description, and that she had had a very good time.
For a minute or so I listen to the neighbour’s travelogue until it comes to a natural conclusion, at which point I tell her I have a question for her.
‘Sure,’ she says to me, ‘Shoot!’
‘Well,’ I say, putting down my bag and leaning up against the door frame, ‘I have just been to CVS pharmacy, right, to refill my prescriptions, and one of them is going to cost 150 dollars,’
She stops scrubbing her toes and looks up at me.
‘Gosh!’ she says
‘And another one of them is 50 dollars and the final one is 20 dollars,’ I say, ‘Does that seem like it’s right to you?’
‘Well,’ says my neighbour, who is holding the scrubbing brush in her right hand and the middle toe of her left foot with her left hand while staring up at me, ‘yes, I guess it could be right. I’m taking a medication at the moment that costs 900 dollars,’
‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ I say, staring down at her, door key in my hand, mouth hanging open.
‘And that’s monthly,’ she says, ‘900 dollars a month,’
‘How the fuck do you pay for that?’ I ask her.
‘Well,’ she says, looking down at her toes and continuing her scrubbing, ‘I can’t work at the moment so I get free medical insurance and that covers it,’
I stare at my neighbour for a few moments more while she smiles and carries on with the task of tidying her toes.
I’m still staring at her, shocked at the 900 dollar confession, when she looks up at me, frowns and says- ‘Pedicures are expensive, you know, so me sitting here doing my own doesn’t gross you out, does it?’
‘No,’ I tell her, ‘not as much as the fact that your medication costs 900 dollars it doesn’t.’
And at that, we both laugh.