Chapter 1: Escape from LA pt.1
“The smog was heavy, my eyes were weeping from it, the sun was hot, the air stank, a regular hell is L.A.” ― Jack Kerouac
It all began one hot Los Angeles summer in the year of our Lord, 2016. I had been halfheartedly following the primaries that spring while living in LA, but the psychic stench wafting up from Hollywood quickly became more than I could bear. By mid-summer I’d be long gone, wandering deep into the wilderness of our beautiful country, what pretentious Los Angelites refer to as the "flyover states."
At the time I’d been staying in a small apartment, just off Hollywood Boulevard in what I believe qualifies as "Little Armenia", not far from Manly P. Hall’s Philosophical Research Society, with an old friend and colleague who we’ll simply call "Hermes" or "Herm" for the sake of privacy. We lived there with a couple of cats and a homeless booze-hound named "Red," who, thanks to California’s brilliant politicians, was legally allowed to remain camped out on the sidewalk just in front of our building. It was technically Herms’ place; he’d been working as a video editor in Hollywood for nearly a decade by this point, and I was sort of a long-term guest trying to make a go at some kind of career.
I’d been trained in writing, but as it turned out, writing books is only really profitable for the handful of household names you tend to see in most supermarket book sections; you know, the Danielle Steeles and Stephen Kings of the world. It was also the perfect industry for politicians, who, I’m told, used book sales as a mechanism to collect bribes or launder money. Inevitably, I settled for journalism, an increasingly cringe-inducing industry that was heavily infested with the worst kind of devils.
Los Angeles can seem glamorous to young artistic hopefuls and small-town discontents, but within months of my arrival, it became hideously apparent that the “city of angels” was little more than a glorified den of inequities—a breeding ground for godless social vampires. The vibrations in that place were decidedly low; an exaggerated sense of self-importance seemed to be branded on the very souls of those tinsel town denizens. Anxiety, fear, psychic bloodlust, and a general sense of desperation were in the air everywhere you went in that town, except when hiking deep in the hills, where the possibility of your carcass being carried off by a mountain cat was preferable to returning to the city. As Keruac warned, “A regular hell is L.A.”.
I hadn’t been in Los Angeles for more than a few months, but I felt as though I’d aged well over a decade in that span of time. Even then, before the shit really started to rain, I somehow knew the place would kill me if I lingered too long. One morning in particular, I thought my number was up as I rushed out the door, only to trip over one of our friendly neighborhood vagrants, old Red, who was barely conscious and splayed across the sidewalk. His hand was stuffed deep into the recesses of his grimy jeans, and his colostomy bag was plopped out onto the concrete for all to see.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" He called out. His voice sounded like a gravel-filled garbage disposal.
“No time to talk Red, duty calls. I gotta run.” I lied.
“You can’t run your whole life baby, ought to learn how to take her slow like ollld Reddd.”
Red’s long, greasy mane was also his namesake. He always had something uncomfortably lewd or weirdly insightful to say to Hermes and me on our comings and goings from the apartment. Red was a veteran with Gulf War Syndrome who had been thoroughly cooked by the California sun over the last few decades of living rough.
"I hate to leave you hanging like this, Red, but as I said, duty calls. I’m a very important man, in case you hadn’t guessed." He was muttering something but I had scrammed before he could finish his thought.
When you see homelessness declining in other parts of the country, you can almost always be sure that the homeless population is proliferating in liberal Meccas like Los Angeles or Portland. It's a controversial topic, but in many cases, the homeless crisis is actually encouraged and exacerbated by certain individuals and groups that profit through social programs and government positions. The very same people claiming to be able to fix the crisis continue to hold their hands out for state and federal funds, placing their value on how much public funding they can raise and then spreading it around to campaign donors instead of actually getting people off of the streets. Many in LA are aware of this scheme, yet they continue to vote the same every election cycle. (#)
I felt bad for lying to Red about being in a hurry, but LA is a city that was built on its propensity to weave fiction, lies, and exaggerations; here, dishonesty is compulsory. To be honest, I cared very little about my job. I had been making a meager living penning click-bait garbage for some awful online news rag that could have easily replaced me with a chimpanzee at any moment. As numbed as I was, I could still tell that the job was starting to get under my skin. Everything I wrote was both nausea-inducing and contributed to the ongoing fall of Western civilization. I penned some real IQ-melters, things like "21 Former Celebs who are now Ugly" or "Why Did this Politician Eat a Burrito Wrapped in a Diaper?", and the occasional gem like "The 50 Best Simpsons Tattoos of all Time".
I was becoming something that I’d always hated as a direct result of living in that cursed metropolis. What was to become of me? Was I destined to become another shriveled-up sidewalk worm, baked by the California sun like old Red? It was a grim predicament indeed, but I remained determined to earn a living writing one way or another. Finding a way to do it while keeping my soul intact would be the real struggle.
Instead of walking my usual route through the urban hellscape to the dreary building where our pitiful excuse for a “newsroom” was located, I almost unconsciously choose to walk in the opposite direction. In those days the only joy I knew came from an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood, but even that wasn’t enough to keep the self-loathing at bay. I was convinced that in order to salvage whatever remained of my battered soul I would have to at least quit my job, if not join a remote monastery somewhere and devote my life to Christ.
It was 15 minutes after the hour and I was 15 minutes late for our weekly meeting when I ordered a plate of samosas from the familiar Indian joint. I remember gazing through the window behind the counter into the kitchen where I saw what appeared to be a couple of Mexicans cooking my Indian food, I remember thinking that was the most American thing I’d seen all day.
I was already in a pretty rotten mood, but what came next would somehow sour things even further. While awaiting my medium-quality samosas I heard a familiar voice, but not one that inspires joy, quite the opposite. On a television screen on the wall of the small restaurant was the ghastly visage of Hillary Clinton accompanied by the sound of a contrived cackle. Suddenly my appetite was gone. I’d had the great displeasure of seeing that broad just about everywhere I looked in this city. Little did I know that this small, seemingly insignificant annoyance was actually the inciting incident that would eventually make my future heading clear to me.
It seemed to me at the time that American politics and Hollywood had a lot in common; overpaid actors who memorize their lines and do as directed by the men behind the curtain. We observe and get worked up like children watching professional wrestling, mindlessly cheering for whatever swindler has captivated our attention by pretending to care about whatever our pet issue is at the time. Whether it’s criminal A or criminal B, the uniparty always wins, and very few commentators at the time were willing to admit it.
The political news media’s “best” people (the Don Lemons and Sean Hannitys of the world) were little more than well-spoken models, groomed and paid to deliver pre-approved talking points. True journalistic integrity didn't seem to factor into the equation at all. I always admired guys like Wolfe, Pulitzer, and Thompson, who were seemingly venerated for sharing (what at least appeared to be) their own personal takes on the times, so I figured; why not try my hand? Nothing could be more embarrassing than what I was already doing, so what did a schmendrick like me have to lose by stepping into this new arena?