On TV families load their cars. A teenager clutches a stuffed animal to her chest. I want to stop the news tape, rewind it. Will her backwards into the house to pick up something important. What would I substitute? A family Bible never read, its journey by steerage from prewar Germany to postwar New York to Los Angeles? How till his death, one grandfather refused to talk about servitude in the tsar’s army, his escape after 10 years, as if by forming the words, the Russians could still come for him. I too would pile photo albums into the trunk, though mine are sparsely filled. Is that the legacy of generations of wandering? If you brag about the children, the evil eye will snatch them from their beds. Is there memory in objects? The way a nest waits each spring for a pair of mourning doves to return. How a pillow keeps its indentation, years after the husband disappeared, remarried in another country. Tiny flags of ash rain down. The winds pick up, churn, the ash begins to rise, reversing course.
WEATHER Written by Alan Grostephan
I stand in front of an image of the days of the week and within each is a sun and a number—81 degrees. There is no variation. I am, they say, the weather girl. I am the one who is mostly useless nine months out of the year. “No rain today,” I say, as if to say something as obvious as the sky is made of air. “No rain this week.” I wear a pink suit with a white blouse that shows just the tops of my breasts. My skin is dark beige, my eyes tightly embedded, and I wear my hair yellow as the suns in the boxes. I come before sports. I am watched because people might want to look at my breasts, but mainly I am pointing at the suns and reminding everyone why we live here, why the traffic is atrocious, why the air makes us sick, why we bring in water hundreds of miles from San Francisco in a big steel pipe, why my rent is so high in Santa Monica, why my boyfriend thinks he’s famous, rollerblading up the path in his spandex shorts that show an outline of his reasonably large dick, and why I rollerblade with him, and we stop at Jamba Juice, where a happy white girl with two erupting pimples on her nose says, “Hey, aren’t you the weather girl? My mom loves you.” My boyfriend feels proud, as we sit out on the patio chairs and I can see the weather all around us. My boyfriend sizes me up and approves. I size him up and reach out to touch him, feeling the sweat on his arm and while at first I think I love my life, a second later I feel as if I had put my hand through the cardboard into one of those Halloween holes and I am touching what feels like the inner cold guts of my own dead body. “What is it?” he says. “Is your juice too sweet? Mine is.”
FIFTEEN THOUGHTS ON MY SISTER’S QUINCEAÑERA Written by Alex Espinoza
He was the chambelan. The main dude. Paired up with my sister.
He wasn’t her boyfriend or anything. He was older than the rest of us. He had chin stubble and wore cologne.
One night. After rehearsal. We went to his pad. Kicked it in his garage. We shared a beer. His knee touched mine. His hot tongue inside my mouth.
He asked, “You know what to do with it, right?” Me on my knees. His pants a pool of denim around his ankles.
“Yeah,” I lied. “Totally.” I took it. I told myself, This is what I’m born to do. God makes you this way?
He bent me over. His hand pushing against the back of my head. My face pressed between the couch cushions.
I counted the change that had fallen there: a quarter and a nickel.
See, him putting it inside of me doesn’t make him a fag.
It felt good. Him in there like that. Invading me. Tearing my soul from my skin. Me taking it, though? That makes me a fag.
“This stays here. With us,” he said when he finished. I laughed. “What?” he asked. “Why would I tell anyone?”
He drove me home. Walking through the door, my sister wanted to know, “Do you think he likes me?”
We must confess. I reveal only what I want to. At Mass, we fill up the first row of pews. I watch him up there with my sister. They take the Host. Then we go, one after the other. Body of Christ. I swallow it. The guilt is too heavy. I feel like crying because I can see. The kind of men we are forced to become.
PERSONHOOD Written by Andrew Winer
If only he could find a photo of her online. She was his age, fifteen, lived somewhere in LA, too. An anticipatory boner emerged inside his shorts as he scoured the familiar places. Striking out there, he moved on to sites serving more specific identity groups to which a girl like Vanna would presumably gravitate. He was trolling deeply among the Goths, with a fascination that grew in inverse proportion to his erection (there was something dick-shriveling about the endless succession of nose chains and lobe-stretchers cascading down his screen), when his phone quivered on the desk. His mother. Shit. He ignored it. And blew another hour on a Wiccans network where it was impossible not to fall under the spell of so much unbounded female witchiness, and where his dick happily revived at the provocative selfies and self-descriptions of the Los Angeles-based enchantresses maintaining profiles there. It was equally impossible, however, to ignore how similar these cultish social sites were to the mainstream ones he used, everyone exfoliating their layers of personality, everyone shouldering each other’s little banalities. All their posturing about Satan, death, and darkness aside, witches and zombies seemed as given as anyone to posting social pieties that answered a little too closely to their friends’ needs and expectations, and, as far as he could see, the networks they used forced these so-called “outsiders” into the same old conventional morality of liking things, the same old group niceness, the same old narcissism applauded by everyone you knew. And, sure enough, he felt the same old hazy low he always did, having spent a few hours surfing the small events breaking on the surface of the ordinary lives, it turned out, of the city’s adherents to all things black.
THE FINAL FAMOUS LADY IN L.A. Written by Ashley Farmer
It was the year of the resurrection of the MGM lion: He appeared above the pier, the opposite of tranquil, six stories of illuminated glory and a head crowned with fire, his roar echoing and echoing until it reverberated within us, causing us to tremble through happy hours until we arrived home each night to rewrite our respective television pilots. Officially: It was the year of the designers’ designer drug collections, recycled robots with brand-new morals, and premium denim brands produced in prisons. Unofficially: The year of the Ouroboros, Los Angeles in the year of Los Angeles in the year of Los Angeles. It was the year Los Angeles declared itself its own solar system despite Capitol Hill protests and the initial lack of scientific evidence. It was the year we will always remember for the Lady Star Exodus, how they retired together to an island made of recycled plastic surgery pamphlets and tabloid blind items. It was there they painted seascapes in oil, built temples to Bette Davis, plucked harps in loose gowns while luxuriating with their luxurious “sisters.” It was there scholars claim that the New New Romantic Era dawned. Meanwhile, due to the lack of local talent, I was crowned the Final Famous Lady in L.A. I recall a black helicopter dropping me in that marble Bel Air mansion with its mausoleum ambiance, and how the night ended with the product launch. The tar pits had preservative powers so, the moguls reasoned, why not bottle the stuff. And then I was at the edge of the pits in a torn gown, smiling for visitors, tourists, and investors. I reasoned that if I remained I’d become remains—encased forever in this town like an ancient relic—so I made other plans: I rushed toward the lion’s furious mouth and I roared back.
TWO HUSBANDS Written by Aaron Peters
The state hired Rick’s wife to care for her ex. The ex was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down, and also suffered from brain damage. He’d fallen off the roof of their old house. A ladder was leaned against the house but he’d been found lying in the grass far from it. It was impossible to tell why he was on the roof because he was incapable of making himself understood. Rick’s wife was at the old house often. Occasionally, she was called on weekends to help the part-time girl with one thing or another. Sometimes, she stayed over to relieve the night nurse. “When you’re divorced, you’re divorced,” Rick would tell her. “We need the money,” was her typical response. Yes, but they needed a lot of other things too. Late one Saturday, her phone rang while they were watching a movie. Rick could hear the ex-husband’s loud computer-assisted voice coming from the phone. After the call, they tried to watch more of the movie, but both knew she had to leave. They drove to the old house. From the backseat, she collected the towels and sheets she’d washed that day. She also carried a bottle of oil to massage her ex-husband’s arms and legs. Rick followed her inside. He sat on the couch while she struggled to move her ex from his chair to the massage table. “Usually, the girl helps me,” she explained. Rick waved her away. He lifted the ex-husband like a child and laid him face up on the table. He seemed to be trying to say something to Rick while she disrobed him. At the sight of her ex’s erection, she put a hand over her mouth. “Wife,” he said.
FAMOUS Written by Cecilia Woloch
Famous for that, my mother said, when I smeared a kid’s cheek with my too-red lips, when I waltzed in, late, then rushed out again, when I drove her old car, like a bat out of hell, when I made the kitchen shine—all the things I was famous for. Could I have been anyone’s daughter but hers? With my cheap, pretty clothes, with my hair a disgrace, with my passionate housekeeping, too. She swept the floor and I scrubbed, 3 a.m. in our nightgowns, the world out the door. She sang and I hummed, on my hands and knees: I’m crazy for loving you. And then those noons we were still half-asleep when the phone started ringing, she’d yell, Let it ring! And those evenings I sat on the stoop, scrawling my secrets in secret, I thought, she’d call through the door, Are you writing out there? That Pearl, who blew kisses and waved from the porch every time I left home all over again. Who wasn’t born yesterday, she said. Who wanted to know where I was when she knew she was starting to disappear. Where is Cecilia? she asked the crowd that had already gathered around her bed, when I was in mid-air, flying to her. She was a pistol, a wise-cracking moll, a saint of the sink and the stove in bare feet. And then she was silver, a sliver of light. And I was her doppelganger, that face in the mirror. The dresses she never wore.
ANOTHER HOLLYWOOD DREAM BUBBLE POPPED AFTER ED RUSCHA Written by David Hernandez
Another long breath expelled, post-audition. Another, We’ll let you know. Another eye roll and private rant inside an Echo Park apartment. Here it comes: a rigid middle finger for the celebrated actor eying down Sunset from a billboard, another flipped bird to the symmetrical face weeping convincingly on primetime. Here it comes: nothing. No callback. No yes. No bottle hissing out a garland of champagne. Just envy, that heavy pickaxe that whacks and whacks the heart’s monument. Another script. Another part goes to someone else. Here it comes: another wish landing at LAX, gliding like a balloon around baggage claim. Here it comes: the pin.
HOLLYWOOD—AUGUST, ’92 Written by Greg McClure
I sparked a blunt with God one night. He was a little guy, roly, with a smither of ’stache. He came to me after my last ska set, said My Soul craves your music, His voice high-pitched, ratpunk. I let him hold my blue guitar & when He told me He was God, I was fine with it. We were in Hollywood. I figured it was his real name.
He wanted to party with the band & we were game, ending up in a shaggy living room in the Hills. When I walked in this most-beautiful blonde came to me, said hello & kissed me, wanted me to wrap my arm around her. But I saw God smiling, watching me & the girl. Nervous, I made for the kitchen, popped a brew. He followed, leaning in with His hot breath: don’t be afraid, Man, she’s an angel.
Drinking God’s Grolsches, the hours gave up & the party dialed right. But God—at one point He hiked his shirt & slap-funked His belly, flashing a Buddha tattoo. He couldn’t dance, but did, up in everyone’s space. Still later, the blunt. We were together on the deck passing it, the Santa Anas a perfect shot of wind & warm. I had a guitar in my hands & he said play me something, Man.
Afterwards, He was silent. Then, He put His arm around me. I froze, stopped playing, stopped breathing— He must’ve felt those three denials, but He rested His head on my shoulder, said Man, the city’s ours tonight, & I knew He was right. I thought fuck it, & put my arm around Him.
Sometimes I think of Him, whom I’ve not seen since, & remembering is a kind of prayer. Another night in LA, nothing special— a few accidents of nouns & weather. But a way of reliving, and living.
SEXY REAGAN, TEETHING REAGAN Written by Tagert Ellis
My fiancée is a Ronald Reagan impersonator. Each weekend she removes her eyebrow studs, hides her candy-pink hair beneath a liver-spotted bald cap, and putties up her face. She stands in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and she is America’s most elderly president. She gives small bags of Jelly Bellys to the children, and, for the adults, signs their most cherished dreams into law. She sells Star Maps. Sometimes she works so late that she comes home and cascades into our bed in full costume. I wake, on those mornings, facing the homespun nose and can-do eyes of the fortieth leader of the free world.
The work takes a toll on her. I can read it in the pain of her gait after a long day spent posing for pictures and delivering arched-eyebrow bromides. The men who work down there—the Gorbachev impersonators, the Mondales—are very territorial. But she won them over, carved out her niche, made herself one of the boys.
She asks if she can take our daughter, who is actively teething, to work for a day: a test run. Putty, horsehair, an improbably small suit jacket. My fiancée brings home four hundred dollars that day. She’s the richest Ronald Reagan in the whole world. I come home from the carwash and there she is on the couch with my daughter.
Picture this: On my couch, Ronald Reagan, and he is breastfeeding another, tinier Ronald Reagan. Our country’s two greatest hopes, right there, together on my couch.
And here I am raising a family in the best god damned city in the history of anything.
STEVIE NICKS Written by Teddy Macker
Stevie Nicks sang from the tape deck. Most of us wore fluorescent pink t-shirts. It was Brent Thomas’ birthday party at the rec center. Brad Keith was telling us how his sister smoked pot, Brent Thomas how his older brother fucked Nicole Ladora while listening to Guns N’ Roses, and Stephen Hollenbeck how Christy Wheeler’s nipples were big as silver dollar pancakes. I remember holding Ketcha Lowen’s hands that night. They were big and sweaty. I remember her broad lower back while we danced. Then Brent Thomas jumped in the pool with his clothes on; Ketcha thought this was maybe the coolest thing in the world. Chanel Scott approached me later and said Jenny Golden thought I had snakeskin eyes. Snakeskin eyes are rare, Chanel said. I looked across the dance floor. Mrs. Thomas with her feathered Stevie Nicks hair was shaking Polaroids in the air. Jenny stood by the bathroom, her brown eyes bizarre. She was older, pretty, already had boobs. She was Kevin Casey’s girlfriend, and Kevin Casey apparently French-kissed the real Punky Brewster on the log-ride at Disneyland. Somehow I asked Jenny to dance. We French-kissed six times during Chicago’s Look Away. Eighteen French kisses more and a month later, Chanel Scott approached me at the bike racks and told me Jenny went back to Kevin. I remember not saying anything. I remember riding home on the street that always took me home, down a hill past houses and trees through a California dusk, and I remember my mother asking me where I’d been, and I remember the nights of that summer pacing before a dark mirror wild with desire, and I felt strange awful wings in me then, wings that flapped open hugely when I was alone, wings that were much too large for any kind of flying.
FOR REAL Written by Leslie Larson
I caught the 720 on Whittier and Soto at 6:20. Maids and gardeners piled on with their gear—buckets, shopping bags, pruners, and weed eaters. One dude had a ladder. Let’s get moving! somebody yelled from the back. A guy in painter’s whites whistled. I dressed nice but not fancy. I wanted her to see me like I really was. Me, not my clothes. Fuchsia tank, dark skinnies, and flea market flip-flops, the ones with jewels. The guy next to me was sweating. At Sixth and Main I ate an Altoid. Skid Row, my dad used to call it. I knew when I read where she’d be, today of all days, that it was meant to be. A sign. My Gift from the Universe. Our lives were parallel lines that were curving, drawing together. They would intersect at one point: the Beverly Hills Hotel. The suits bad-vibed me at Miracle Mile. I started to doubt. Cologne and freshly shaved faces. Perfume and stilettos, the smell of money. Do you mind? I asked the guy next to me, so he leaned away. Maybe I was a moron. Maybe this was a big mistake. The tar pits with their sad-ass mammoths, LACMA and El Rey. March (her) is 3, May (me) is 5, times each other equals 15. Today, and also my age. Same number if you add up the letters of her name. See? I know everything. Her favorite food: pancakes. Perfect Sunday: walking in the woods. Most overused phrase: For real? Youngest of six, like me. I walked up the drive between the columns of palms. Mourning doves and the papery shush of the fronds. I felt like I was in a movie, like everyone was watching me, going to meet my fate. She came out with a paper cup of coffee. Sweatpants, T-shirt, Dodgers cap, sunglasses. of her cap. But she was more beautiful in person, much more. A ray of heaven split the clouds and hit her like a spotlight. Glowing. Hey, you, she said, like she’d known me all her life. It’s different when you see the real person, when you look in their eyes. I told her it was my birthday. Have a good one, she said. For real, she added before she touched my arm and walked away. I felt different then. For that moment, perfect.
THE SELFIE GETS THE SHOES Written by Lisa Douglass
The hospital was cold As it was on the day we met With tiny wristbands like waiting for the show
The men came to take you You gave me your wristwatch You said you had never seen eyes like mine
I’m not Los Angeles Or the medicine that makes you see your mother I’m not the ghost of someone you once loved
I am just a mirror of your hopes The things that you believed in Before you gave up on yourself
I can always feel it when you’re mad The texts take hours Or sometimes not at all if I want something
Prostitution isn’t far off I sent out a selfie for the 900 dollar YSL’s
I’m thinking of a job between One and Ten That doesn’t involve selling out
HOLLYWOOD DIARY Written by Ryan Ridge
We were living hard but it was hardly a living. Some claimed they fasted to enhance their seven-figure salaries while others airbrushed themselves to death in the name of professionalization. These were the new industry standards, which—even by our standards—were low. And we knew that most of the flyover demographic would be appalled by the ways we orgied ourselves in the Hollywood moonlight night after night, but we did it anyway. I mean: freedom isn’t free, right?
They say correlation doesn’t equal causation, but I disagree: the fact that entertainment and war are our only exports anymore speaks volumes. Once, a bald eagle landed on the studio lot and all the actors saluted and the crew members screamed their support for the troops and for once, just once, we felt like we were winning.
Down the avenue came reality stars and suddenly my life felt like a commercial break before it broke.
And then came a dilemma that needed my attention. I carried my attention around my neck in a bullet pendant where I kept the cocaine. I always use small bills as coke straws as a means of staying in touch with my modest origins. Like James Dean I came from Indiana and to Indiana I shall never return. But if I’m lucky, really lucky, they’ll name a burning building or a car crash after me.
Most days I feel like a private eye investigating my own disappearance. Where did I go? And what the hell is a cop helicopter doing interfering with our vision quest? All the starlets went sideways and there weren’t enough script doctors in the world to fix them. Later, we heard drum machines and shamans in the distance and we did what any young aspiring artists would: we ate more ayahuasca and charged everything to our credit cards and asked questions after.
Q: Does this sound anything like the recent pain you’ve been experiencing?
CASA DEL SOMETHING Written by Lisa Locascio
From my small apartment at the base of the Hollywood Hills, I walk up to the grand homes terraced behind explosions of bougainvillea to lose myself in twists and contours. To see stars. One spring evening, a light rain fell as the sun set, and I climbed higher, to a castle in dim mist. Yellow lights, purple face, a metal insignia inset into its gate: Casa del Something, where I found him. He limped, falsely. Quite thin, he was dressed with haphazard courtliness, the look most people in my neighborhood aim for, but real: shirtwaist, velvet vest, torn black jeans, white leather jacket. My eyes went to his reddish cloud of hair, to the freckles around the upside-down mouth in his very pale face. He looked at me shyly, half-smiling, as if he would speak. I turned away. My realm is full of beauty, and he was just one flower. Prince of the Casa del Something. But at home I saw him on my television, a lovesick teenager with a strange accent and a blood disease, mooning over a vampire, costumed and moving as at the Casa. Was he a star, or a captured man living in another dream? I read that he had strolled my neighborhood in character, had become lonely to play lonely. So I saw the teenager, not the prince. In the latest photos his eyes are terrified, his hands black, and he is dressed against his beauty, the russet stain of hair shorn into a sturdy orange hedge. Now, each night, I climb to the Casa del Something to view my face. In the gate’s polished brass knobs it is more like his than ever. I close my eyes to kiss the sweating metal. And then I walk home and watch my reflection in the black screen.