The Big Seethe [California Seething]
The rantings of a non-driving theatre professional living in altogether the wrong city.
I’ve been reading Raymond Chandler recently and he’s inspired me to try and better describe L.A. This is much better than what happened when I first read Raymond Chandler in Middle School and he inspired me to become a Private Detective. And by, “become a Private Detective” what I really mean is open up my own Encyclopedia Brown-style detective agency in the backyard of my parents’ house.
Turns out, though, that much like Free to Be You and Me and the Bible, the Encyclopedia Brown books had some very misleading ideas about life and the backyard of a suburban home on a quiet street in upstate New York. It’s a terrible location for a Private Detective Agency that depends entirely on walk up business.
I mean, sure there was the Case of What the Hell Are My Sister’s Friends Smoking in the Garage and Will They Let Me Have Any, the Mystery of God and Why is My Sister Such a Bitch Once a Month, but aside from those brief investigations – not a lot of action.
So after a couple of lonely days sitting at the picnic table behind our house, with a handwritten sign illegibly advertising my services, wearing a deerstalker cap in 90 degree weather (yes, I know I’m sort of mixing my literary detective metaphors but it was left over from a past Halloween costume and I WAS 12 YEARS OLD WHAT THE HELL DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME, BLOOD? I didn’t have the pipe, though cause my sister’s friends were using it in the garage).
I closed down the Agency for good.
It was all very disappointing. Not a single dame walked into my office with eyes as blue as a mountain lake, hair the color of honey and gold and a set of gams that starts at the ground and ends with a lump at my throat (my sister doesn’t count and her gams usually ended with a foot up my ass).
Not a single flashy hood walked in with slicked back hair and cream colored pigskin driving gloves to call me “cheapie” and “shamus” and threaten me to keep my nose clean or he’d cut it off and feed it to his goldfish. Hell, I didn’t even get to foil one of Bugs Meany and the Tigers’ stupid schemes. What a gyp. Then again, it’s probably for the best that I never had any clients, because the truth is – I would make a terrible Private Detective. I mean – let’s face it:
- I forget stuff all the time
- I’m easily distracted
- I never pay attention to details
- What the hell were we talking about again? I was thinking about monkeys. Oh, monkeys. I like monkeys. Cute little guys. They’ll rip your face off, though, so watch out! And they love bananas which is weird cause I hate bananas. Nasty vile things. Wait, I’m sorry – what were we talking about again?
Which is fine, actually, cause I didn’t really want to be a Private Detective so that I could solve crime or “detect” stuff – except maybe the faint trace of sweet, sweet smoke seeping out from under the garage door or the carelessly tossed instructions from a box of tampons on the bathroom floor which warned women of the dangers of Toxic Shock Syndrome and warned me to get THE HELL OUT OF THE HOUSE for 3-5 days or maybe just hide in my room until the lambs stopped screaming.
No, I wanted to be a Private Detective or Dick, as they were once called much to the schoolgirlish giggling delight of 12-year-old Eric (OK, and 40-year-old Eric. Tee-hee-hee. Dick) so that I could talk tough and crack wise, wear a trenchcoat and fedora and a cynical smirk, take belts from the office bottle when the cops come knocking and take no guff from anybody no matter how rich, or powerful, or gorgeous or my sister. And, most of all, I wanted to be able to see the world like Raymond Chandler did. To describe L.A. the way he could.
Unfortunately, I’m not all that great at describing places either, cause – let’s face it:
- I forget stuff all the time
- I’m easily distracted
- I never pay attention to details
- What was I saying about monkeys again? I hate bananas!
And this is evident to anyone who’s familiar with the famous Case of Eric Giving Driving Directions Home From a Bar Where He’s Been like a Thousand Fucking Times and Still Getting Hopelessly Lost Because He’s Flummoxed by National Blvd. Why do there have to be TWO National Boulevards in West L.A.??? Who designed this idiotic city and how can I shit on their face???
OK, so sure I might suck at it, but let’s give describing this idiotic city a shot:
The sky is blue. No, no, wait – I’ve got more – it gets better.
OK, so, like I was saying. The sky is blue but you still can’t really see the mountains. You see, the sky in L.A. isn’t like other places – it’s not the steel-grey, frowning face emoticon sky of New York City which opens up occasionally to offer an unexpected sparkle of light and warmth or the wide open, toothy grin “howdy neighbor” blue sky of Montana (Montana – that’s a thing, right?) which is clear to the horizon in all directions and gives you a great big “Jesus loves you” neighborly hug while it shows you just how much nothing there is to look at.
No, the blue sky in L.A. is like a hostess’ smile at a restaurant you can barely afford – it’s sunny and warm but reveals nothing at all – and it’s likely to cloud over without much warning and leave you unexpectedly out in the cold when it realizes you’re nobody.
OK, well, not great – but not terrible. Let’s keep going.
So…then there are the trees. Uhm, yeah, trees. Hoo-boy, those trees. There sure are a whole buncha different kindsa trees. Man, I suck at trees. See, this is where Raymond Chandler has it all over me because he can totally tell the difference between all sorts of trees and houses and birds and all kinds of stuff that I’m much too lazy to learn about.
I mean, I know what palm trees are because I’m not a drooling idiot or a graduate of the California public school system and I know what Jacarandas are because they’re incredibly pretty and fill me with rage like the hostess at a restaurant I can barely afford.
I MADE THESE FUCKING RESERVATIONS A MONTH AGO WHAT DO YOU MEAN THIRTY MINUTE WAIT???? I hate this place. I’m never coming back and HOLY CRAP IS THAT CHRIS PINE IN THERE???? YOU GAVE MY TABLE TO CHRIS PINE??? Squeeee! I love this place! I’m totally coming back! This is almost as cool as when Judd Nelson drunkenly collapsed on me at the Wee Britain Pub in Santa Monica. He looked really old too – more Broken Hip than From the Hip. That made it even more fun cause the only thing better than feeling inferior to celebrities when they’re on the way up is feeling superior to celebrities when they’re on the way down.
Anyhow, the jacarandas are just one more example of urban “planning” in L.A. – some idiot makes a bad decision and 50 years later we’re all stuck with the consequences. It’s like – from the people that brought you “Hey – I’ve got an Idea – let’s tear out all the streetcars so there’s no meaningful public transportation and put in lots of roads instead – and then, when traffic becomes unbearable in 50 years – we can tear up all the roads to put in subways – it’s perfect! Traffic will be worse than ever and there still won’t be meaningful public transportation. Genius!” comes “Hey man, let’s plant a bunch of trees that will all bloom at once with happy, pretty purple flowers which will rain down all at once with happy, pretty purple DEATH FROM ABOVE and cover the streets with their mangled rotting pretty purple corpses as they leap off their branches by the millions like LEMMINGS OFF THE CLIFFS OF DEATH or stockbrokers back in the 1920’s when they still had the good sense and dignity to kill themselves when they lost all our money and not to take money from the government so they can stay in business so they can take all our money and lose it again.
I HATE STOCKBROKERS. And jacarandas. And bananas. What was I saying about monkeys again?“ Then again, what type of urban planning can you really expect from a city who’s motto is “Oh, I’m sorry Owens Valley- were you gonna drink that water?” and where there’s TWO FUCKING NATIONAL BOULEVARDS THAT DON’T CONNECT UP.
Seriously, I can’t wait to shit on the guy’s face who designed this City – only, of course, I won’t be able to get to his house cause traffic is so bad due to subway construction and he lives on National so I’ll never find it and of course he’s been dead for over 100 years.
Anyhow, like I was saying, jacaranda flowers in L.A. are like snow in New York – beautiful when they’re coming down and a huge pain in the ass 5 minutes later. Of course, snow is much much colder, more difficult to walk through, and much harder to get rid of, and it lasts a lot longer, and comes down in larger quantities, and can paralyze the city, and kill people and if New York Eric heard Candy Ass California Eric compare snow to jacarandas he would never stop punching me in the fucking face. Still, aside from those minor differences, it’s the same damn thing.
So, OK, I suck at trees, but what about people? That’s what’s really interesting about this town. After all, there are 8 million stories in the Naked City – although most of these are terrible stories about people you would never want to see naked.
Like the homeless guy with the scraggly beard who hangs out behind the theatre dressed from head to toe in Sponge Bob Square Pants attire, including a giant foam hat – yeah, I don’t want to know his story – though I can think of all great names for it: Stinky Bum Soiled Pants, Sponge Bucks for a Square Meal, So Glad He Wears Pants, Mentally Ill Individual who Fell Through the Cracks of an Underfunded System and Can’t Get the Help that He Desperately Requires So He’ll Probably Die Alone and Forgotten on the Streets Square Pants.
HA! It’s funny cause it’s true! It’s also incredibly sad and tragic ‘cause it’s true! Seriously, somebody should really help that guy. Not me, though, cause he’s super-gross and besides, I’m more of a “Phineas and Ferb homeless guy” person.
So, OK, it’s a badly designed city that’s impossible to get around with infuriating motherfucking foliage. Plus there’s 8 million stories you never want to hear, because most of them just start with “Well, I came to L.A. to be an actress” and end with “no, I’m really much happier and more centered now and my kids are the most important thing in my CILLIAN YOU GET BACK HERE THIS MINUTE! KELLEN, SPIT THAT DOG BISCUIT OUT – IT MIGHT CONTAIN PEANUTS AND IT’S NOT EVEN ORGANIC.”
Or they go “Well, I came to L.A. to be an actor and actually that’s exactly what I’ve done. Cause, I mean, that’s all working at Best Buy really is when you come down to it – acting. Plus I’ve got a great idea for a totally original screenplay. It’s a one camera mockumentary style sitcom about a big box electronics store – awesome, right? I’m thinking Will Arnett and Amy Poehler for the leads if those two crazy kids can still work together and CILLIAN, KELLEN – GET DOWN FROM THERE! HONEY CAN YOU TAKE THEM? I’M TRYING TO PITCH MY SCREENPLAY.”
But still – L.A. is a great city to write about because it’s so big, diverse and complicated that even the simplest errand can turn into an adventure through the seedy underbelly of ethnic communities – many of which I was sure were exterminated by genocide and war.
Take, for instance, the Case of the Multi-Ethnic Memorial Day BBQ. It all started with a trip to the Mexican Barber Shop in the Laundromat.
Chapter One: The Mexican Barber Shop in the Laundromat
There are some ways in which I already act like an old man. Like when I tell funny, funny jokes to the skinny Latina waitress at Denny’s at breakfast whose closed-mouth-half-smile says “I find you very slightly amusing” but whose tired eyes scream “YOU ARE PUSHING ME BEYOND THE LIMITS OF HUMAN ENDURANCE WITH YOUR CORNBALL ANTICS. How much suffering must one person endure for a goddamn $3.25 tip??? Please now go choke and die only do it somewhere else cause I don’t want to drag your Moons Over My Hammy bloated corpse out of here and besides I really need that $3.25 tip.”
Then again, there are some ways in which I’m like a whining and insufferable 5-year-old child, like when I have to buy new clothes (see the Case of The “There’s No Oxygen in this Changing Room. I’m Suffocating to Death. I Can’t Try On One More Pair of Jeans. Get Me Out Of Here!!!” Meltdown – which got me banned from the Fox Hills Mall J.C. Penny at the tender young age of 37) or get a haircut.
Usually I put off getting a haircut until people start asking me why I’m not wearing my Sponge Bob Square Pants outfit anymore and commending me on my (slightly) improved smell. And while this is a great way to pick up some spare change, it’s really not ideal for my professional reputation as a “pillar of the fuckin’ community” or at the very least “person who’s most likely not homeless”.
So when I do get a haircut, there are 2 key things I’m looking for:
- No talking: Look, I’m as chatty and sociable as the next opinionated blowhard. In fact, OpinionatedBlowhard.com just ranked me as Person Most Likely to Voice a Fully Formed Critical Opinion About a Movie He’s Never Seen and Doesn’t Plan to Based Solely a 30 Second Commercial and a Bus Shelter Ad (want proof? Check out the F&N Podcast tomorrow and listen to me hold forth passionately about After Earth, the new Vampire Weekend album and all sorts of other shit that realistically I have absolutely no business having an opinion about, but I do anyhow! #shamelessplug #thatsnotahairplugpun #imnotbaldenoughtoneedhairplugsyetfuckyouverymuch).
That being said, there is one time that I fully appreciate total silence and that’s when I’m getting my haircut.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve got to take my glasses off and shut off my phone or maybe it’s the meditative hum of the clipper doing battle with my ever-receding Jew-Fro but I find that getting my haircut is the perfect time for contemplation and brooding.
Why would I want to screw that up by having to make small talk with some yahoo who thinks he’s my BFF and my therapist because he’s been licensed by the state to run with scissors.
It’s a tricky situation. I don’t want to say “I’m sorry, could you please not talk to me?” because that’s pretty much like saying “hey, could you please give me a faux-hawk and curl my ear-hair?” so clearly the only solution is to find a barber who speaks as little English as possible.
- Cheap and simple: Look, my hair’s never gonna do Wavy. It’s not gonna do Poofy or Parted or Pompadour or Pat Reilly. And while it could conceivably do Slash, it’s sure as shit not gonna do Axl.
No, my hair pretty much does two things: Al Qaeda and Shorn Alpaca. So why would I bother going to some chrome and black leather clip joint where I’ve gotta put on a black hospital gown thing just so that some Eurotrash hair stylist can give me false hope that my “hair” can have “style”. Fuck that.
I’m also not gonna go to some hipster retro Silverlake bullshit barber shop all decorated with crazy, random rock n’ roll paraphernalia meticulously selected to conform with corporate branding requirements so that I can overpay for a buzz cut and beard trim from a well muscled tattooed jackass who’s working on his screenplay for a one camera mockumentary style sitcom about a barber shop. Fuck that.
It’s like paying $50 for meatloaf and mac and cheese just because it comes with arugula, pig cheeks and a side of twee. I say again, fuck that.
This is why the Mexican Barber Shop in the Laundromat is perfect.
There’s no attempt at “style” whatsoever, just old leather chairs with the upholstery bursting though, last week’s Spanish language newspapers strewn artlessly about and a stained poster from the 80’s of ethnically ambiguous male heads with a million different versions of buzz cuts on the wall.
Add in the Spanish sketch “comedy” on TV and a barber who only understands the words “Number 3 all the way around, and Number 1 on the beard” and for $15, I look respectable enough for the TSA to let me on planes again and I can get the fuck on with my life.
And hey, just cause the barber can’t talk to me, doesn’t mean he can’t talk to the other barbers or customers. Why, he can say any horrible thing about me that he wants like: “I hope I don’t cut the Jew’s hair too short so you can see his horns” or “I almost didn’t recognize this guy without his Sponge Bob outfit” and I’ll never even know the difference.
Chapter Two: Why do the Armenians Hate Me When I Love Their Meat So Much?
Look, if you’re gonna grill meat in L.A., there’s no point in just buying burgers and hot dogs when you’ve got some of the best freaky meat bits from around the world just lying around the city marinating in strip mall store-fronts waiting for you to find them. Ha! I spit on your hamburgers and hot dogs! (Oops, sorry, were you gonna eat those?)
How to know which of these grimy little stores will give you e-coli and which of them will give you the really good meat (and possibly e-coli)?
Well, when it comes to eating ethnic food in L.A., there’s only one thing you really need to know. Always do exactly what Jonathan Gold tells you to do. So, when Jonathan Gold tells you that the best Armenian butcher shop is somewhere in the ass end of Pasadena you go to that Armenian butcher shop. And I know what you’re thinking – if Jonathan Gold told you to jump off a bridge would you do it? And the answer is yes, if at the foot of the bridge is the Bulgarian deli with the absolute best Kabalakabalakalash (lamb testicles marinated in yogurt and spices and more lamb testicles) this side of Sofia then yes, fucking-a yes I would jump off that bridge.
Throughout their sad and difficult history, the Armenians have mastered the art of marinating meat so that every single cut is as yummy and delicious as it can possibly be. They have also mastered the art of making every single facial expression imaginable that isn’t actually a smile. It an amazing gift.
Seriously, the cashier at the Armenian deli is like the Jim Carrey of abject misery and whether it’s a frown, snarl, grimace, expressionless stare, withering glance or condescending smirk, she always knows exactly the right way to look at me as if to say “Thank you for buying our meat. Please now go choke and die. Only make sure to do it somewhere else so I don’t have to drag out your chicken lula bloated corpse – may I suggest perhaps, Denny’s?”
But perhaps what’s most astounding about the Armenian people is that there are just WAY more of them out there than you think.
Considering the population of Glendale alone there shouldn’t be enough Armenians left to fill a medium sized hot tub (the drain is clogged with hair) let alone an entire country, but there it is, Armenia. Right on Wikipedia and as big as life (seriously – the picture on the screen is actual size. It’s a very small country).
It’s inspiring really. Suck it, Turks! See, Armenians – I said “suck it, Turks” – I’m on your side! Do you like me now? Wait, don’t answer, your face says it all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna eat some delicious meat and then go choke and die.
Sadly, even if that did make the Armenians happy, they’d never be able to show it. Just another reason to hate me.
Chapter Three: BBQ and Banchan in Koreatown
The Armenians aren’t the only ethic group with a brutal history and a hostile attitude towards me cooking up delicious meat in Los Angeles.
The Koreans can also marinate the living shit out of a cut of meat while seeming to hate me! (Must…resist…making…Korean…dog eating…joke…must…resist…making….Korean…dog eating….joke )
Actually, I have no idea if the Koreans really hate me or not, because the only way to speak Korean is to yell it at the top of your lungs. Take for instance this exchange at the Choice Meat Market in Koreatown, or K-Town as we Angelinos call it, when we want to make you feel like an uncool outsider:
Eric: Hi, I’d like to get a pound of galbi and a pound of
Woman behind Counter: YELL YELL YELL. YELLYELLYELLYELLYELLYELL. YELL YELL.
Eric: Uhm, OK. Then maybe 2 pounds of galbi and a pound of bulgogi?
Woman behind Counter: YELL YELL YELL YELL YELL.
Eric: Oh, ok, well, I can just cut this stuff that’s already cut and pre-wrapped.
Woman behind Counter: YELL YELL YELL YELL.
Eric: Oh, you’re welcome, I will come again.
Woman behind Counter: YELL YELL!
After that, it was time to hit the Korean market for Banchan.
For those that might not know what it means, Banchan is Korean for HOLY CRAP IS THAT A WHOLE SALAD BAR FULL OF SQUID PARTS??????
And, in fact, at the Korean market, just behind the life-sized cut out of Psy (or, let’s keep it real here, taller than life size) hawking either mayonnaise or dog sauce (DAMN IT! I knew I couldn’t resist. Now they’re really gonna yell at me) there is an enormous salad bar style display with every type of spicy squid bits and baffling pickled vegetables you could ever imagine.
While the signs are all in English letters, they aren’t actually in “English.” I mean, sure, I appreciate knowing that this bucket of stingy glop contains “Kim Chi” and this bucket of stringy glop contains “Gochujang” but it would be lovely if they would tell me just exactly what the fuck either of these things are.
As a result, you never know quite what you’re buying, so you end up just playing K-Town’s favorite game show – “Guess if this Red Stuff is Squid or Cabbage!”
(Just so we’re clear- IT’S NOT DOG. Did you hear that Korean community? NOT DOG. PLEASE STOP YELLING AT ME. Or were just saying “thank you”? I can’t really tell.)
But here’s the best part – it doesn’t really matter if it’s squid or cabbage because either way it’s delicious. And that’s the thing about ethnic dining in L.A. You don’t have to know what it is, or speak the language or even pronounce the name correctly to know that it’s awesome.
The important thing is to get out of the house, shovel the jacaranda flowers out of the way and get stuck in traffic for three hours so that somebody who came to America from halfway around the world can angrily sell you something incomprehensible that hopefully won’t make you violently ill.
I guess that’s the point of this post! Maybe. I mean, who really fucking knows anymore?
So there you have it. A reasonably good description of a random escapade in L.A. And, just like Raymond Chandler, it’s totally confusing and all over the map – so that’s a win!
I guess I can describe stuff even if I don’t remember anything or pay attention to details. Now, what was I saying about monkeys again?