I was driving, not really stopping or looking around. That wasn't much a part of it. Days passed. I made my way to Los Angeles.
But when I got there, I wasn't sure what to do. I parked by the boardwalk in Venice. I'd been awake for fifty-ish hours and called Lena. From the phone on my lap, I heard her voice.
—Of course you can, she said. —You can stay with us as long as you want.
—I... Who's us?
—Me and Michael. We just moved in. We don't have much furniture yet, but, like, if you don't mind the floor...
So I drove to San Francisco, and when that proved fruitless, to Big Sur. I parked on a cliff, and two teenagers asked if they could camp next to me. They pulled up in a black Mercedes SL while I was still watching the sunset.
—Kind of spooky to be out here all alone, one of them said.
Then he called me his brother.
Accordingly, I played the most unnerving music I could think of, which was Prurient, from my phone in the tent, waiting for them to come for me in the night. And in the morning, the fog seemed to be pretending, like it wanted to appear impossible, to keep people from leaving it, for companionship.
It took two hours to get down the side of the mountain, and I got into the ocean and had a brief sexual feeling toward a fifteen-foot-long piece of bullwhip kelp.
Later that day, I drove over a piece of pallet and got a flat in a part of the desert where no one spoke English. I ate some tacos trying to figure it out.
And two weeks earlier, in Missouri, I'd found myself at the junction of highways H and A.
Thus I returned to Los Angeles and called Lena again, and for the next who can say how long, I slept on the shag carpet outside the bedroom she shared in Echo Park with her boyfriend of six weeks and his dog.
Lena said, —How's Ana?
She and her boyfriend went to bed early, and I sat with my laptop, suspicious that their progressively audible intimacies might have something to do with me.
I tweeted a picture of my sleeping arrangement: a pillow and a sheet on the carpet. Ana favorited it. I texted her a link to a song, and she told me not to.
She told me not to tell her what music I was listening to or what I was reading. If she was unfamiliar, she'd become alienated, or want to look it up, and thereby become annoyed at having to interrupt whatever she was doing to do so.
It wasn't always easy to make sense of what was happening.
Over breakfast, Lena told me she'd told her boyfriend about the abortion. That she'd had to. And when I started to recount the night I'd met Ana for the third or fourth time, she picked up my plate, along with the oily sliver of lox I'd been saving on it.
—Spare me, she said.
I explained to Lena that I'd never felt more alive. I took a paper napkin out of my pocket, started drawing bullet points. An orange fell off the table and she kicked it behind the refrigerator.
—I'm happy for you, she said.
—Seriously, you have no idea how much I appreciate you letting me stay here.
—You should really thank Michael.
I looked behind me. Lena had turned away. The water came on, and there was the sound of her doing the dishes.
—He pays all the rent, she said. —I'm just covering utilities and stuff.
I glanced at my phone. Ana had texted at some point.
She'd also liked something on Instagram, a photo of me and the cat that wasn't mine, from nine months earlier.
I texted her, how's ur day?
She replied five minutes later, O u kno, just busy as usual !! ;-P
Lena said, —Do you mind drying?
She handed me a rag and a pile of dishes, and I remembered Ana's porch. I envisioned her there, immaculate, looking at her phone. And I remembered other things.
In Los Angeles, my restlessness augmented, but walking five-, later eight-, maybe ten-mile stretches of Sunset Boulevard, I resolved to put any malingering fantasy of suicide behind me. That no matter what happened, I'd compose a version of myself, worn down to only a natural end.
Monotony is not the problem of life, I thought. But the effort to repeat what you've done and said, the things that got you there in the first place, and to redraw their implications, might be.
I got rid of the rental car. I found my way to a hotel downtown, and was able to buy some yellow, saccharine-smelling stuff someone claimed was, —The closest thing you'll come to, like, whatever blow is like around here.
Lena accompanied me at my insistence. Her boyfriend had shrugged. I hadn't seen a person roll his eyes, even on TV, I thought, in maybe a decade. It seemed retro, or nearly futuristic, and he returned to typing incoherencies on a large desktop computer in the corner.
We were on the rooftop, by the pool. Lena said she was tired.
—But we just got this stuff, I said.
She introduced me to a few people she knew, including a rapper, who's no longer famous, and she hugged me.
—Be safe, Lena said.
I touched her on the back of the neck and thought about putting our foreheads together, but resisted, and the rapper and I ended up doing it all the not-cocaine in his suite.
I told Ana about it the next day, and she told me she'd known him years ago. She told me never to mention famous people, or reference the idea of fame, or name-drop in general, and she didn't ask if I'd spent the night with him.
I helped move a large sectional sofa into Lena's apartment, and was granted permission to sleep on it.
She drove me to the beach. I took a few pictures but didn't send any to Ana. In the ocean, Lena looked different.
—But didn't we use a condom, I said.
I didn't mean to be smiling, but Lena was smiling. Her hair was moving like an animal that didn't know it was living on another organism.
—Never mind, I said.
Lena shook her head and put her hand in the water. When she took it out, she was holding a shell. She made a show of observing it closely, then started to clean it with her knuckle.
Her boyfriend didn't have much to say at all.
We were both up early, and I'd botched making the coffee. He poured it out and started a new pot.
—So, like, what do you do exactly, I said. —Is it, like, coding?
—Yeah, he said.
—That's, like... For a company or something, huh?
—Freelance, he said. —I work for a lot of people.
I lay on the couch. There was stucco on the ceiling, and I tried to read a Chris Kraus essay.
I looked at my phone. The dog, a little black thing who's breed I couldn't identify, ran in a figure eight. Lena took him out, and I sat on the steps smoking a cigarette.
Ana liked something I'd tweeted six months earlier: when are we going to stop calling it boyfriend/girlfriend and migrate to the gender neutral "future resentment collaborator"?
I googled best diners in la and read about one by the water in Santa Monica. When Lena returned, I suggested we go for lunch.
—Michael has to work all day.
—Well what about just us, I said.
Lena didn't say anything.
—Or, okay, what about dinner? We could all go for dinner?
—I'll ask him, she said.
But her boyfriend didn't want to go to the diner. He said it wasn't healthy to eat anything cooked in oil. That free radicals found themselves into just about everything in a diner's kitchen, even if you did order off the vegetarian menu.
He suggested a raw, organic vegan restaurant, and I pretended to look at the menu.
—I, uh, like. I don't want to make a fuss, but I really don't know if I can afford this... I did sort of a... There has been a depletion... Of my money... Due to making the trip out here...
We were all looking in different directions.
—It's fine, he said. —I'll just make something here, you guys go.
—But I want to eat with you, Lena said.
—I think David and I may have different tastes.
—I'm not, like...
—I'm not trying to make things difficult.
—What, Lena said.
—What, I said.
—I didn't hear what you said.
—It doesn't matter, I muttered.
—I can't remember, I said a little louder.
Lena suggested we go to an Indian restaurant.
—Do they have milkshakes, I said.
They didn't, and I ordered a mango lassi and something with chicken.
—Michael grew up in Massachusetts too, Lena said.
I looked around the room. There was a fountain with a Buddha in it. I didn't know if India had much to do with Buddhists and felt nervous.
—Do you ever miss the East Coast, I said.
—Do you miss New York, Lena?
—Sometimes... I don't know. When I visited in the winter, it was so shitty outside. I watched a guy, like, picking his toenails outside the Whitney, and like... There are certain things, I guess.
—I don't know about it out here, I said.
—I'm not really sure you can make that claim till you've actually spent some real time, her boyfriend said. —Living. Being normal.
—This is really good, Lena said.
She fed him a forkful of chickpeas.
—I'm sorry, I said.
—I already told you it's fine.
Lena and I were sitting on the steps. I took out two cigarettes and she put her palm up, shaking her head.
—If you think I should go or something, like, that's totally cool. I'm sure I know other people in L.A.
—I told you you can stay as long as you need. And, like, I mean it... But...
—You should say what you want to say.
—I'm a great proponent of people expressing themselves, I said.
Lena's arm hairs were standing up, stiff and facing the same direction. I'd seen things like it before. Seagulls on the beach when it's snowing, for instance.
She turned her phone over. There was a sticker on the case, and she picked at it with her nail, peeling just a layer of the paper off, a soft ripping sound. She rolled it into a ball with her thumb and middle finger and put it in her pocket.
—Michael needs to do some work... And, like, he got in touch with this, like, app? It's in beta, but they're gonna let him try it. It's like Airbnb for people who get bored working in the same workspaces all the time. So they're gonna let him stay in this place in Hawaii and do some work on it, and like... I just think it's good if we get away for a while.
—Oh, I said. —Yeah, word.
—It's just for like ten days... And you should totally stay here! But maybe after that, like, if you're like still trying to hang out in the city...
—No, cool. Yeah. Seriously, thank you... I want to, like... I wish I could, like, hold you or whatever...
—Can I take you out for a drink when you get back?
—Of course, she said.
—David, she said.
She sort of moved her hand toward me, then put it down.
—Just make sure, like... After you're done, do you mind running the cigarette under cold water before you throw out the butt?
—Sure, I said.
Lena went inside. And in the morning they left me with a piece of paper with instructions on it, which I accidentally got wet right away. And though it was implied I could sleep in their room, I remained on the couch.
They had entrusted me with the dog, who slept and sometimes shit little rock-like turds at my feet.
I listened to the noises from its mouth. I cooked simple, deceivingly wholesome meals. There was a health food store a few blocks away with a refrigerated display extending half an aisle, labeled only KOMBUCHA.
Ana mentioned she'd be in New York in two days for three weeks. She made it sound totally casual.
I'm helping set up this group show I'm gonna be a part of ! And also just some meetings and projects and etc, typical networking shit, u kno
Did I know?
I downloaded a dating app and deleted it. I scrolled through Ana's Instagram.
I tried to walk to the Getty. I started drawing with a paint pen on stuff, like pineapples and things. I wrote FREE BOBBY SHMURDA on a pharmacy's bathroom mirror, and stared at it, surprised and a little confused by myself.
The dog shit on the couch. I threw up in a trash can. I found a karaoke bar, but they didn't have "Common People" by Pulp. I tried masturbating in the bathroom sink. Every time I thought of Ana I got distracted, and somehow pulled away.
Later, sprawled across the apartment floor, my dick propelled in kind of an ellipse with my left hand. At some point, my shoulders had become covered in acne.
Two days earlier, I'd stolen probably half an eighth of weed and a prescription bottle out of someone's tote bag at a bar in Silver Lake, and the weed was gone. There'd only been a couple Vicodin to begin with.
I went through the drawers in Lena's apartment looking for Xanax or oxycodone.
I found an expired bottle of Tylenol with codeine and went to sleep, sun still high over the dusty hills.
My stomach started to bother me.
I took a hot shower and lay on top of a pillow.
When, the following day, the bother had still not subsided, I drank half a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and took a very expensive car to the beach.
I wandered, dog leash in hand, looking at Black Flag and Bob Marley t-shirts, sitting on the steps, wishing more people would play basketball at the place from the Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson movie.
I put my headphones in, but no music emanated from them. I walked along a pier, hoping to see, I guess, shark fins? It wasn't clear, and I watched a Corona can bobbing in the water.
Back on the boardwalk, a guy wearing a sandwich board over his shirt was advertising weed prescriptions.
—How do I get one, I said.
—Just go right upstairs, my brother.
I looked where he was pointing and started to head in that direction. Something was holding me back.
—Hey, the guy said. He let go of my sleeve. —I work for tips.
I gave him a two-dollar bill, the only thing in my wallet, and he gave me a slip of paper that read 20% DISCOUNT ON YOUR FIRST EIGHTH. I followed the signs posted up the stairs to the beachfront office. There was a waiting room and no air-conditioning.
A guy in a 311 t-shirt asked if he could help me.
—I'm here to, like... I was referred by the guy downstairs.
I uncrumpled the slip of paper and was taken to a little room with an ocean view. I sat in a chair at a desk. A guy in scrubs was across the desk. He didn't appear to have a chair, and said,
—What seems to be ailing you, Mr., um...
I felt around like I was looking for my wallet.
—I'm sorry, I said. —My stomach...
The dog was moving, tangling the leash around my leg.
—I've been taking stuff for it, but I'm looking for something more, like, organic?
—Ah, he said. —Can I see some ID?
I handed him my driver's license, and he studied it for a while. He shook his head.
—Can't prescribe anything to out-of-towners. I'm sorry, Mr. Fishkind.
—I'm staying in Echo Park, though, I'm like... I'm new to the city, I haven't gotten my driver's license updated yet.
—Can I see some other proof of address? Maybe a piece of mail, or...
—I just got a job at UCLA actually.
He looked at something behind me.
—Starting next week.
—I'm a librarian, I said.
—That's a good vibe, Mr. Fishkind.
—So can, you, like, maybe let it slide just this once. I'm, like... In pain?
—I'm sorry, he said.
He took a baseball hat off a hook on the wall and looked at it. He placed it back on the hook.
—But please do come back on back when you get that driver's license taken care of. We offer a twenty-percent discount on your first, like, treatment.
His handshake was unspoiled by the types of things that can sometimes ruin them. It was pristine, and I felt fairly ghastly.
I went outside. The dog tugged at the leash, choking itself and peeing. I pretended to look at the water.
Billions of components to water, I thought. Just kidding. Waters, I thought. I didn't know. Everything kept moving as a unit, a singularity.
I texted Ana, sup?
It took her twenty-three minutes to reply.