Oddities & Propaganda
When Will asks me what I want to do in L.A., I tell him something
strange, and he brings me to the same places he brings everyone.
At the Museum of Jurassic Technology, there is much silent nodding.
I know which of our friends was interested to find out
that curly hair can be an index of pride, and which fascinated
by the oil paintings of Russian cosmonaut dogs. I take many pictures,
but none of Will. He is the same, a bit thinner perhaps, perhaps twisting
and pulling on his hair a bit more than usual as he tells the story
of being on the Warner Brothers lot, and needing to take a piss—
the prop man telling him “go past Manhattan, take a left
at the French quarter.” Increasingly I am self-conscious of reenacting
the motions of others. Apishly I move into Superstitions,
to find that “a child weaned at the time that birds migrate
from the country will be restless and changeable in after life.”
In a country thus described, we identify our taxonomies of real.
Real as in: love is performative. Real as in: there are places here
where nobody speaks English. Real as in: it didn’t take a desert
for us to start commodifying need. Back on the highway,
Will tells me only one person has ever committed suicide
by jumping off the Hollywood sign—he jumped off the H.
The afternoon is aching like a lost child when we get to the body
shop and it’s a relief, to be in the Valley, where people work.
The employees assume we’re making a film, and we make ourselves
unassuming as we browse the cadavers, the boxes of skulls divided into
Museum Quality, Medical Quality, and Crime Scene, assessing the value
of objects we have never seen, in some cases never imagined, wondering
where else we would even go to find a replica of Eazy E’s tombstone.
There is a particular sadness in an object meant for just one occasion,
but if the moment does not receive it… best to keep moving
past the many clever fetishes and Little Tokyo, where I lament
that a friend of mine and I are not close enough to justify
an expensive book. When conversation drifts towards the Lakers,
it is not retreat, it simply feels good to have an argument
where the stakes are even. It feels good to watch someone doing work,
we both agree on that. We drive past the school where Will is employed,
one of the infamous L.A. public schools which closes every decade or so,
merges with another school, and reopens under a new name
in order to ditch its poor performance record. He says
most of the students are too newly arrived in this country
to understand what a shitty education they’re getting—
they all think they’re going to USC. They’ll learn, soon enough.
At the L. Ron Hubbard museum our beautiful Taiwanese tour guide,
Rainy, tells us our cynicism is pathological, as is Will’s hair twisting,
that both can be cured. We vow to win the L. Ron Hubbard book prize
to honor her. Los Angeles is drawing the entire world up out
of the ground and turning it electric. In the slow inarticulate danger
of evening rush hour we agree to agree that we’re not fetishizing
Rainy because she’s Asian, but because she’s a Scientologist.
We feel good about this. We feel like Americans.