You Will Write Yourself All Over Again: A Los Santos Memoir
I’d been released from the hospital, finally. Standing outside the Mt. Zonah Medical Center, my toes curled around the edge of the front curb, I watch a clean dusk fall over the city. A tableau of varying shades of purple and pink. The air is nuanced with second chances I don’t deserve and, establishing eye contact with a middle-aged woman standing a few feet away—a single member of a larger circle of other middle-aged women, all carrying large, bright purses—I know she knows. It’s in her stare. We lock eyes, long and shamelessly; she calls me a “loser,” a sentiment I don’t entirely disagree with, and then walks away.
I don’t object because there’s nothing to object to. I know I got off easy and don’t belong out here. Civil absolution wasn’t enough. I couldn’t forgive what the law could.
Across the street, at the Weazel Dorset—a small, sort of sad, side-street theatre; the place only “certain types” know about—a new show is advertised, signs and posters of various sizes plastered all over the storefront: WTF: A Tale of Online Love. “That show is amazing!” passersby offer up as I study the marquee. I look around. Maybe it is amazing. This place, the Weasel Dorset, certainly seems like a place where one could be amazed: perhaps by the coteries of artist-types in their loud statements of indignation as they impress themselves upon the walls. Or maybe there’s something amazing in the curious futility of an attractive girl adjusting her already-adjusted leggings—or a blonde who, for no apparent reason, has decided to wedge herself between the show-time posters and myself.
“What’s up?” she says.
This, to me, is a very Miranda July thing to do, and I like that. I think it’s funny, and in my head I’m laughing, but I look around, left+right, up+down, ignoring her, because I think, if I’m getting her humor right, she’ll find this funny. An obvious disinterest to signify my interest. It’s funny, is it not? We’ll laugh together, go see WTF: A Tale of Online Love, then chat afterward about how it was so not as organic as the quirky way we met. Only it doesn’t happen this way—another lesson in expectations. Her world and my world were not the same. She walks away. Dejected, I do the same, in a different direction.
I wander in a nebulous of confusion and, in this nebulous, find myself, at some point, cruising in a small, expensive sports car through the mountains. This is a me-thing to do: remember the bigger picture—the loss of grand narrative—by getting back to nature. It’s a narrow, empty road that winds through the entire range. A good place to think. The irony does not escape me here: I remember the Chevy commercial with the misappropriated Thoreau-quote at the end. Deer line up on the edge of the road. I always anticipate the jump. Harm is never done. I wonder who owns the expensive car I’m driving. Nice gift. I thank them, kindly—but, if someone can afford one, they can afford two.
At some point, probably, subconsciously, to show off my new whip, I wind up downtown. There are buildings—lots of them. I drive in the same funk, tuning everything out, until I can’t. Something takes precedence over my radio, which, until this point, had only been passive sound. I snap out of it then hear yelling. Through my windshield I see a punk-rock kid, smoking a cigarette, and a cop walking up to him, coppishly. Words are said, and the kid looks shaken. I step out of the car. “Hey,” I say. The cop must have thought I was hitting on her—FYI: I would never hit on a cop—because she does one of those “hi”s that somehow signifies both “hello” and “goodbye,” simultaneously. She walks away, to show her disapproval for what she mistook as my trying to put the moves on her, but leaves the kid and his mohawk alone. As she rounds the corner, I’m suddenly ashamed by her solipsistic narrative. She was not turning me down. I didn’t want to cause trouble, but she should know that. “Hey,” it proves, is a fairly open signifier. I continue on, in clarification: “Think you’re hard?” Now she stops. She turns around and pulls a gun.
Chekhov, in certain ways, would be proud of the officer. I’m shot, in a careless burst, several times. Lying on the ground, looking up, it occurs to me that Joyce was right: “You could die just the same on a sunny day.” I stare into the sun and let it burn my retinas past repair. Everything goes white. Sound becomes the single note of a distant hum.
What, in the West, is inexplicable is often not. Cases of déjà vu, or other intersections with the ineffable, are replete throughout Eastern religion, represented as cycles of life: samsara. Tibetans believe in a transitional state between death and rebirth. Death, in this case, is but a short waiting period as the soul restores its divine state. So: we’re reborn in perpetual imperfection until we’re not. The cycle is completed with enlightenment. Only then do we rest, and rest well. When I’m reborn, I’m standing on a curb outside of a hospital. It’s a metaphor for the beginning of life—one better understood, more familiar to us. There’s a theatre across the street—a marquee reflecting bright lights off the pavement out front. People, along the wall, are gathered. Certain things seem clear enough.
This time it’s me who walks up to her. Last time I beat around the bush I was shot in the face by a Los Santos police officer. One quickly learns, after a time or two, (how) to avoid being shot in the face. Experience, as the cliché goes, is our greatest teacher. Experience/cliché: The root of their conflation is all too obvious. I’ll be more genuine in future interactions. Not often is true sincerity misunderstood. Irony: our greatest plight.
“Hey, baby,” I look down.
It’s not quite me—I miss the mark—but maybe, I think, she’ll take it with humor. Baby? I’ve literally never said that. She should, when considering how to consider me, consider my shame. I make it apparent, but, at this point, to this degree, it seems contrived. My facial expressions feel forced, just to the point where they no longer feel correct, and people, I think, are staring.
I begin to say something else. Perhaps a clarification of sorts, but she interrupts.
“Shut the fuck up,” she says, “and get ready for the experience of a lifetime.”
The girl in leggings, my first crush, lifts her head for a moment—“Oh!”—then looks down and resumes her adjustments. She pulls and pushes, pulls and pushes, the lazy Sisyphus, then stares down the sidewalk. I want to tell her I love her, or would love to take her to the Weazel Dorset, any show she’d like, then offer, without implications of any sort, to buy her a new pair of stockings. The blonde woman continues on about “the experience of a lifetime,” and what, exactly, that entails. Many words are said, none of which I hear, and by the time I remember to turn back around, to give the woman an answer regarding her offer, she’s gone. Sisyphus is I: chase shadows until I become one. Suffer forever. Very well. I turn around. The girl with the leggings is gone. Very well. Since that’s the way we’re playing it, let’s play it that way and speak no more about it. I stand in the middle of the road where nobody stops, yields, or swerves.
Hospital, curb, theatre: These things, as I see them, are all familiar, but uninteresting. A hurried driver in a business suit rear-ends a woman right in front of me. Her bumper is history; my interest is piqued. Her head rests on the steering wheel, and the horn blares, and he does not get out to apologize, nor inquire on her wellbeing, so I force him out. And while he’s out, I take his car. I ditch the city in a new Ocelot F620 Coupe, driving without destination, trailblazing dense forests, accelerating down the sawtooth declines of mountains, and carefully negotiating tight peak-turns where, at the outermost parts, the world in its entirety is visible below. Tiny, moving specks go about their respective whatevers.
You can climb up the big VINEWOOD letters set out on the Hills, and, when you reach the top, you can look over the city at every little, individual speck of flickering light and see yourself in just about everyone. It all seems natural, fluid, but isn’t. Werner Heisenberg, in a 1950-something series of lectures delivered in Scotland, reminded us: “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” We see what we’ve trained ourselves to know and know what we’ve convinced ourselves we’ve seen. Two small, nimble cars zip around Vinewood Hills, multiple sirens—ambulance or police—reverberate through the air, someone somewhere yells in terror. It’s familiar—the sounds together—and because of its familiarity, I assume it has been created for me—to end me. The city sings my name as it searches for retribution.
And while it sings, coming, surely, to have its way with me, three girls stroll up the trailhead and stand below the VINEWOOD sign. I slide down the ladder.
“Hey, Sweetheart,” I say.
“Hello,” one replies.
Her intonation was one of great curiosity. I like the way she says it, but she says nothing else. Just pulls out her phone for a scenic selfie.
“Hey,” I say to the other.
She too pulls out her phone. It occurs to me to ask if I could take a picture of all of them, as the third girl has, at this point, pulled hers out as well. All three stand in a perfect equilateral, phones raised above their heads, faces bent to strange expressions. Sirens still blare. I can stay, or go. If I go, and I’m not wanted, I will be. We create narratives in that way. Regardless, there will be time for change. The time isn’t now. I climb back in the Ocelot and tear down into the Vinewood streets because, regardless of whatever, I always sort of was a motherfucker.