by Sarah Herrington
I enter Los Angeles and it’s wide as night. The airport is a net of gold that just keeps growing out and out until it makes up the whole city. From the back of the cab billboards swath landscape, rectangles form horizons: Freeze the Fat, Gentleman’s Club, 1-800-Car-Rental, The Hunger Games. The cab drops me off underneath The Gentleman’s Club ad on Sepulveda, a perpetually windblown peroxide girl with candy lips. She blows a welcome kiss.
I’m staying in a rented room until I get my feet. At night California cockroaches emerge from the walls, larger bugs than New York’s. My temporary roommate is a guy who is always shirtless and always working out: doing crunches, leg-lifts, free weights. He’s training to be a director. Every night he watches documentaries. “They’re water bugs,” he clarifies one night. “It’s because I’m planting organic tomatoes on the balcony. They like soil.”
There is no soil here, just a spool of highways that lead to sand. Each day I drive from the rented room to Santa Monica, to be alone with the expanse of Pacific. Eighteen swirling years in Manhattan, drowned. The sun drops, the Santa Monica ferriswheel twirls a hot violet vortex. The seaside Georgian stamps red blocky neon on blueblack air. I flash to the New Yorker font that hovered fire-red above midtown. My mind spins the Coney Island Wonder Wheel. In Manhattan billboards were vertical, like the skyscrapers. The GAP girl, the Calvin Klein girl, bigger than Gods- New Yorkers, running northward over 42nd street, shooting off like rockets.
When you tell people you’ve moved they want to know from what.
J shot those billboard girls sometimes. He was the eye. The way he responded with a lens in front of him was more intimate than language.
Together we were strobe lights and shutter speeds. We were portfolios closing and unfolding. His fingers were rough from camera knobs. Now when I ran into him on the street he’d turn away. Yet he seemed to be on each corner. I’d seen recently on Facebook a new woman: dark haired and star-faced, looking into his same camera. It’s been a long time since I’ve been looked at the way a photographer does. Or the way a man does when he loves you.
One night on the Santa Monica pier I see a smaller sign: Let Zoltar Tell Your Fortune! Beneath, a mechanical booth with this fortune teller character named Zoltar. As I walk by he springs to life, moves his head like a robot pigeon.
I can’t believe it! We had the same Zoltar in the East Village. On Saint Mark’s Place, between the newsstand and Gem Spa. Once J and I stopped by there after coffee. Our Zoltar was covered in graffiti, windows scratched. J put in four quarters and we got 2 slips of paper like oversized fortune cookie slips.
I don’t remember what kind of fortunes we received but now I wondered if they were bad ones.
I start a new job, and every day I commute over a hill that dips and lowers to the perfect view of LA. Endless Summer the billboard shouts, placing a lime-rimmed beer on the coast. In the distance another billboard squeezes a huge belly, LIPOSUCTION NOW the fat puddling over Marina Del Rey.
Each day rolls into the next. The sun constant, the temperature the same. Each day: rays of blue. Each day: the view of mountains cupping city. Maybe the reason everyone here wants plastic surgery is so they will stay in that same consistent beauty as Los Angeles itself. Unchanging.
Maybe here, I think, nothing will fade.
One night after work I go back to the Bluffs overlooking sea. The amusement park is beginning to close – the lights of the pier rage.
Zoltar stands guard. As I approach he awakens, his torso turns from side to side. He’s doing calisthenics like the director. But I don’t want a fortune.
I want this Zoltar to connect to the old one, a portal I could slip through Santa Monica to St. Marks. Just to see: Would the streets feel the same? Would J still be there? How would it feel? What would I say?
A month later I’m driving down Sepulveda and the billboard girl is gone. How odd, but her big vacant face had comforted me – her kissy promise amid the panorama of strip malls and smog. “How was your day?” she’d ask Gentleman’s Club-style, in this bright sun looking ridiculous.
A brunette has replaced her too.
My tears dot the steering wheel. It’s a lowering of totems. A sign of impermanence – an ad changing like a season. Even here.
In the rearview my city goes black.
Sarah Herrington’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, Poets & Writers magazine, LATimes, Tin House and other outlets. She divides her time between New York and California. www.sarahherrington.com
Image source via Creative Commons