overhaul / undertow

Sunday, February 20, 2005

"The possibility of physical and mental breakdown is now very real. No sympathy for the Devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride."
-Raoul Duke

Godspeed, Hunter.

Friday, February 11, 2005

It’s eight a.m. and I am arriving at the Spotlite. The dawning sky is cast over with sheets of gray, high upper atmosphere rain that doesn’t reach the ground where I am standing. My almanac this morning said the sun would come up at 7:33, but I can’t see it anywhere—Hollywood Boulevard’s craning Deco towers tilt in at all corners of my vision, sliding between me and the horizon. The buildings are wet, gray with smog and old smoke, neglected, plaster mouldings with twenty-two layers of peeling paint. Cahuenga’s traffic hisses past, warm plush car interiors with cell phones and new-car smell—no one looks out, no one notices me.

I take a deep breath and walk in, past the curtain, under the blue awning and cheap sans-serif font spelling out The Spotlite: Since 1963, bookended by rainbow-pride flags.

Inside it is warm and dark, oddly safe. Nondescript. Soft red-yellow light melts through the space. A muted jukebox quietly plays random eighties hits.

I walk across the room to sit at the bar. A pair of men in business suits at a table in the rear discuss something quietly, each with dark heady lagers, both twitching to smoke a cigarette. Two young Latino men at the bar, their gestures flippant and flighty, bitch back and forth about what sounds like mutual friends. Both look exhausted. I smile quietly at the bartender, feel my words catch, then ask for a Red Bull with cranberry. He doesn’t even blink. I sit and stare intently down at my hands.

“Not drinkin’ today?” asks the man next to me. He is older, graying, but stolidly built, with basset-hound loops under kind eyes, glasses, and a bottlebrush moustache you could scrub potatoes with. I recognize a bourbon on the rocks in his hand, and the Washington Post.

I shake my head, smile. I’m shy around strangers, and I turn back to my cranberry drink and newspaper, but he waits a beat and asks why I’m here. “There’s plenty of Starbucks around this time,” he smiles, indicating the curtained door, and the world outside.

“I’m assigned to check this place out by my editor. I’m a writer.” It’s the truth, distilled. I swirl my drink and something in my stomach lurches, twists, a weird hunger, claws crushing outwards against my ribcage, drawing my eyes to the glowing wall behind the bar. It’s suddenly hard to breathe.

“Well, good,” he laughs, setting down his paper and leaning back. “Anyone wants a drink this early’s gotta be nuts.” He quaffs the scotch and grins at me. The claws drop to the floor of my stomach, disarmed, the pressure on my chest vanishes. I feel myself laughing, the tension passing. We chat awhile.

After about an hour I tip the bartender, leaving my paper on the stool for someone else. As I drive to the Brite Spot in cascading showers for pancakes and coffee, Jay Farrar plays on my stereo:

Living it up on the downside, living out what's inside
Don't mind and don't regret it, forget what's gone and here's your warning:
No sentence yet decided, just a wide string tremolo...