Dear Dirty America

DDA

Falling From Heaven

July 10
21:00 2012
CONOR MATTHEWS
Los Angeles
 
THE NEWEST AMERICAN — Falling From Heaven (part 1)
We began to descend sometime after the Grand Canyon and near the end of “UP” playing on the screen in front of me on the back of the seat of the Eastern European woman, whose pillow keeps slipping between the gap and landing by my feet, no matter how many times I push it back under her head, without her even realizing because she’s talking to the man beside her (with an empty seat in the between them) about finding Jesus. The French couple beside me are dozing in and out of sleep. I’ll hold my bladder a little while longer. The bastards are just showing off to me. In an eleven hour flight I must have had two hours of sleep and that was in thirty to forty minute sessions. We were flying from London straight to LAX so we didn’t miss a moment of sun. A little map on the screen showed us the shadow of night trailing behind, but getting ever closer and closer as we trailed along the sky. 

We glided across the Southern Los Angeles suburbs. My perspective and possibly the lack of sleep gave me the impression we might crash into one of them, not realizing at the time they were literally right next to the airport. I was amazed at the regular shapes and patterns that took form before me. Straight lines, straight roads, straight gardens, and even straight people. We slowly slugged our way across the tarmac, creeping past the other airlines from across the world; a multi-story array of multi-cultural multi-million dollar enterprises. I thought for a second as we turned that I was surprised tonot see an American flag welcoming us. As we turned into the gate my thoughts were premature since a massive American flag draped across a building appeared. And then another, and another, and another. There must have been six flags from my tiny little window that I could see. I began to think about the hard working ethic of American society, before, once again, my thoughts were overheard. A luggage buggy streamed across the scape, swishing under and below the planes docked for fueling. It jacked to a halt. A little man, a few yards away, got out of the driver’s seat and made his way to the back, where several traffic cones were stacked on top of each other. He picked the whole stack up, and accidentally dropped them, shattering one. He looked at the disorder he created, kicked one of the cones, and then hopped back into the buggy, driving off, leaving a puddle of orange union puke on the strip. 

Customs were surprisingly interested. An Asian officer had a nice snappy chat with me about where I was staying. I was polite, and explained to him where I would be staying. 

“But what City?” he said. He had a cool calm to him that demanded efficiency as opposed to respect. 

“Los Angeles” I replied. 

“No! Your hotel is in Hollywood!” 

I had yet to figure out the mechanics of such a large place. A boy from a town of thirty five thousand can’t be expected to understand how a city can be so large that it is in itself not a city. Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, West Hollywood. I didn’t even realize Santa Monica was so close. You can walk between these cities (if you have the time and energy). I needed an hour and a half long bus trip and fourteen euros to get to Dublin. Here you can get to a different state within the same time and monetary limits. He lets me pass as soon as he found my papers were in order. I’d answered all his questions. And despite me having a beard he let me go. Thank God I’m not tanned. Though that might be my downfall in the end when I return home to Ireland. 

My luggage accompanies me to the phone when I need to ring the hotel. I have the copies I’ve made of the hotel reservations in my left hand, another one in my bag kept separate from the original. The voice on the end of phone sounds quite nice; Indian accent. 

“We’ll send a hotel transport to collect you. Please wait outside for collection”. 

My eyes widen to the whirling roundabout of traffic and cars and noises and people that spread themselves through the narrow traffic lines on the road, speckled and dashed across with lines of Morse code through the streaming information highway of the industrialized digital age. It began; a rally of people’s lives, hands saluting taxis and buses, red faced bus drivers hurling out names and inconceivable Spanish. I clutched my bags to me, sling-shooting my eyes back and forth and around and behind me, like a child lost, making eye contact with the odd headlights of stars blinding me to the point I felt like they were gonna run over me, before a gust of reassuring wind swept my hair off my forehead. I scrambled my fingers over them to keep the mystique of the attractive foreigner going for as long as I could. The hot smog of the night crept into my mind, batting my breath with its own sense of welcoming kisses. The intoxication proceeded when the small hotel shuttle bus arrived. I handed my suitcase to a complete stranger I had to assume didn’t hijack the bus with a bunch of Koreans. We picked up two Germans, some Chinese, and a man who resembled the “Christian Bikers of America” I saw at Dublin Airport. We ploughed passed the giants of luxury hotels that loomed over us like judging eyes, considering the concept of crushing us like the grains of teeth I find in my own mouth, that comes from a chipped tooth my tongue likes to make out with from time to time. 

We made it to the hotel. We’d found our temporary home. We scurry along with our “Hello’s” and “I’ve a reservation” as best as we can. A voice that sounded familiar was heard over the crowd. It’s the Indian voice from the phone at the airport. She’s Hispanic. Beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. I have to check in with the Southern Black Woman at the desk. As soon as I’m done, I march across the vast pool area, past the elderly couple’s room, not as silent as I would have liked courtesy of the cranks of flower beds that spring out from the pavement, like cheering crowds screeching more incoherent Spanish, this time in pollen, encouraging me to go on. I’ve learnt the first lesson on my trip so far; you are here for you, and perhaps until the day you have a child in your arms, that it truly is you who you are only here for. The child doesn’t necessarily need a mother at this point. Fuck! Stairs. Stairs were in my way to room 291. The flowers were long past. My combined baggage weighs easily twenty five kilograms. I’m just under ten. But no, the wrath that will be mine shall not be stopped. I needed that room. I couldn’t survive in the dog-eat-dog world of the ground floor. Not tonight. The dumb-bells have my fingers grappled on to them, like weeds entwined around a pitch fork, heralding a big “NO! I will not give up this meaty soil of mine without prickling your garden thumb.” My calves dig straight into the slabs of cement, each step bringing back memories of my glory days as a sprinter. I wasn’t as short back then as I was now. Crunk! Clunk! Clink! The parts of me not hitting off the soundings hear the bells chiming the incomplete complete-able. They take with them more than enough anger as muscle presses against my jeans. No time to stop and marvel at my heroism of the dead steps now. The wind. The cars. The heat. It’s all whizzing past me as I jet through the narrow vast. 287. 288, 289, 290. 291! I’m in! 

The card key takes a moment to work. BARR! I’M IN! 

Was it possible I thought…Was I indeed in America…I turned on the television, completely naked, sweating, panting the air conditioning into my lungs as much as possible. The square idiot box revealed Bill O’Reilly, in his little box, in more ways than one. Yes, I thought. I was indeed in America. And yes, I had indeed overslept and missed the free breakfast. The airline food wouldn’t sustain me for long enough. I decided to go for a cigarette. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find the smoking laws were more relaxed than I had thought. I was standing just by the door, my back up against a bin about four feet tall. It nearly overpowered me. I jerk my back a few times to flick out the ashes. I was surprised I got nothing off the cigarettes. Nothing. No nicotine buzz whatsoever. I pondered on this for a second before my train of thought was interrupted. 

“Dude, that white guy’s hot!” 

I look around me and find the only other white guy is a middle aged beer-bellied man in shorts, a cap, and a shirt not meant to be worn by someone with such boobs. I’m still convinced the two gay black guys were talking about him. They approach me and offer to buy a cigarette off me. 

“You can have it,” I remarked. 

“Hey man you really cute. You into guys?” 

“No,” I lied. 

We introduced each other and they enter the hotel. No wonder I’m a virgin. After a few moments a man came up to me. 

“Excuse me sir, I’d hate to bother you while you’re enjoying your cigarette, but could I just have five minutes of your time, I would appreciate it very much.” 

His name was Brian Potter. He explained that he was a homeless Vietnam War Veteran. 

“I have not eaten in a week. I have not showered in months. If I were to lift up my shirt and show you my body, you would cry.” 

He asked for money. I have a rule that whatever I pull out of my pocket first is what I give. I accidentally pulled out ten dollars. It’s not an easy rule to follow. I gave it to him and asked could I write about this, trying to explain that maybe his family would see it. 

“Sir, what I need from you is funds.” 

He wanted more money. 

“… I already gave you ten dollars,” I said nervously. 

“So you have no more money on you sir, is that correct?” 

“Yes.” 

I lied. He made me swear on “the lord Jesus Christ”. It scared me a little how easy I went about this. 

“I believe you sir. I can tell from your eyes. You haven’t broken contact. I can tell you have a good heart and you’re a good person.” 

He wandered off. I watched him walk through the car park, and give the finger to someone who shouted at him. I returned to my room, guilty. I began to talk to myself. 

“Conor, I know you feel bad, but you can’t help everyone. You’re here for you.” 

“I know, but I just feel so bad.” 

“I know, I know, but Conor, you need this money. This goes to rent and food and transport. You gave him what you could. Now you know if you could, you would make it rain on that bitch.” 

I laughed a little. 

“Feel better?” 

“…Yeah.” 

“Good, now come on, we need to get ready.” 

I pulled out my laptop, and wrote a little, with Harry Potter playing in the background. 

*
I waited with my suitcase outside for the taxi, enjoying another cigarette. It was short lived though, as a beautiful black car pulled right up. I assumed it was for someone else, it was too nice for the hotel to phone for me. The Mexican driver got out and went past me into the hotel lobby. I had a funny feeling he was for me, but I don’t like assuming. He came back out and helped me with my bags. I stepped into the car. It became another world, like a submarine with windows. I maintained conversation for as much as possible, but I couldn’t help it. I was like a child pressing his face up against a window to see the exotic zoo animals better. We drove past strange things. Carl Jr.’s, Denny’s, Wendy’s, billboards for television shows and movies I never would have heard of, let alone imagine seeing hanging from the air, and wonderful cars, as if new. The driver mentioned that cars were so cheap here, everyone just buys a car, and it’s easier to get around. 

“You can’t get anywhere walking around.” 

A finger shot across my vision, aimed toward some blazing white letters. My eyes saw them with such delight and glory, the same which would only come across someone when they have achieved some momentous feat of creation or accomplishment. Hollywood. 

“Hollywood sign,” the driver remarked. 

“Yeah… yeah…” My voice dwindled a little, almost to a mutter. “Long way from Ireland now.” 

Jovanny finally introduced himself, with a business card. I should ring him on the way home, whenever that would be, if I make it all the way to September. The cool air conditioning and shaded windows nearly fooled me to turn away from looking outside, until a giant black beast roared above the horizon and the fence, swinging in a dull pounding, rape motion, like a drunk covering a small teen with dirt. These were oil rigs. And they were amazing. They had skin as dark and as rough as panthers in the Indian jungles at four in the morning. They seemingly grew in size every time they inhaled, and there were so many of them you would swear they were all the bastard love children of one inbred beast, mating for the sheer thrill of it. We drove up a hill, only to reveal more of them, only now realizing the vast scale of these degenerates. Like any other rape situation, the act of violence was seen by a crowd of onlookers, who went about their own business. They didn’t want to get involved. They couldn’t. They won’t. They never have. 

We soon arrived at the hotel. I gave Jovanny a tip of five dollars. I mistakenly gave him it before the taxi fare. So much for coming across as the cool slick European. Jovanny drove off North Western Avenue. I don’t recall if he headed to Hollywood Boulevard or Sunset Boulevard. I hope I still have his card. I dragged my suitcase and my back pack down the wheelchair ramp, which seemed futile since I soon realized there wasn’t any way to get up to the second floor without using the stairs. The check-in was just a counter with a sour looking Indian man behind it, talking on the phone. After a moment or two I was able to check into my room. A cool crisp wisp of air conditioning quenched my lungs, but not pores. I strip completely naked and crashed on the bed. I smiled a little; another small accomplishment in the land of the free. I let the air circulate around the room for another few seconds before I turned it off. I put the do not disturb sign on the door knob, locked the door from the inside, and propped a chair up against it. And relaxed with some porn. 

The Internet wouldn’t work. 

I sat down to watch more television. I’m not usually one for pseudo-good television shows, but I recall hearing somewhere that the best way to understand a people is to see what they see. The first thing that caught my eye was the amount of channels there were. Thousands, all screaming and bidding for attention. More than once I’ve found myself trapped in a daze for several hours, watching Friends re-runs and The Regular Show. Another thing that caught my eye (which is a bad thing for my brain but a good thing for corporations) were the amount of advertisements I saw. There were so many that the credits of the ending show, the opening credits of the show just starting, and the first scene of that show were being shown simultaneously. The fuck is that shit! The scary thing is it works perfectly. You’re kept waiting for your favorite show for however long it takes. It reminds me of a study I once read. A monkey was put in a room with two screens. One had images of food, or companion monkeys on it, and the other had images of Alpha male monkeys. When the monkey looked at the first screen, he would be rewarded with a drink and food. The other screen would reward the monkey with nothing. Despite this, the monkeys would stare continuously at the screen with the Alpha male on it, despite the fact they were trained to realize the first screen would reward them. Long story short, there’s a nice parallel between a pile of monkeys that starved themselves to death and how advertisements have taken advantage of people’s desire to be entertained. Like I said, Corporations 1, Conor’s Will 0 (minus one hundred and fifty thousand if we’re counting the amount of times I’ve masturbated since birth). 

My search for a room to rent began the next day. I was to meet a man by the name of Gilles. I wonder how I would pronounce his name. Was it “GEEL LES” or “JIL LE” or “GILLS”?  It was bad enough I had to put some clothes back on to get my free breakfast (which was hosted by the sour Indian eyeing you as you tried to survive on bananas, coffee, Sunny D, Cheerios, and whatever sugar encrusted pastry was left), but now I had to walk around with clothes on in the heat as well. Luckily it was only around the corner. The streets amazed me here as well. So clean, and wide, and exact. You can find nearly everything you want. Go down this road for ten minutes, turn left. Go up this for street for four blocks, and then turn into this street. Americans may have a stereotype for being stupid, but I will give them the fact they can organize roads. 

I make my way up to the apartment. The sun’s already squeezing the sweat from me like moisture from a pot of rice. A poorly scribbled scraped on paper with the number six and the address is my only clue as to what the hell I am doing in this country. I wonder about for a while before an elderly Mexican man and a small fat boy walk down the steps. 

“Hello? Are you the manager?” 

“Si, I am the manager.” 

“Oh, hello, I’m Conor. I was talking to you about the room for rent in my email.” 

I stretched out a hand for a handshake. He stared at my hand for a moment, then panned over to his own, and then met my eyes. 

“I am dead.” 

Looking back on the moment really echoes some sort of contemporary post-consumerism, pre-apocalyptic American surrealist pseudo-haiku. Everything in this country seems to have a poetic-realist perspective as time goes on. But then again, I’m not used to sleeping on LA time yet. 

“Excuse me,” I said. 

“I am dead, I am dead… my arm… she is dead.” 

I withdrew my hand, hoping the moment of awkward embarrassment would pass soon enough. 

“Are you…. GEE-LES?” I said pulled the scraped of paper from my pocket. “JIL-LES? HEE-LESS?” 

We bumbled with the scrap of paper for a while, both of us unable to speak basic American. No matter how many times I explained I had been contacted with a man selling his room, he knew nothing about it. I began to slowly realize perhaps this was a man doing something slightly illegal. Just at that moment, Gilles came out from his apartment. He welcomed me, shook my hand, and invited me into the room in the space of three seconds. He was in such a rush that he only managed to tell me to take off my shoes once I had already stood on his carpet. Gilles was an African business man, sounding like he’s been in America for some time, his accent nearly smothered out by his brilliant English. A massive collection of screens with stocks, graphs, figures, and scrolling LED lights making up letters. This was the only remarkable piece of the apartment. The kitchen was small, the bed was a mattress on the floor, and the internet was a wire hanging out of the wall. And then of course there was the rent. 

“So it’s six hundred dollars a month, but only for one month?” 

“Yes,” Gilles explained. I had already forgotten how he said his name was pronounced. Obviously it was a smart decision on my part. I curled my toes, trying to feel the carpet through my socks as he rambled on about some stupid business trip he would have to take to somewhere. I needed a place for four months. Obviously this wasn’t the place for me, but nonetheless I played up the interest a little and remarked I will make my decision after seeing other places. I didn’t tell him however those other places were thrown together to give me an excuse to say no, especially to the fact he wanted the money up front now. 

As I waited for some more replies from my responses to craigslist advertisements I decided to walk down Hollywood Boulevard at ten in the morning. I was a little bit disappointed to find that everywhere was shut. Obviously it was due to tourists not coming out till later and the night life having only ended earlier that morning, but still, you imagine the big HOLLYWOOD to be a land of myth and wonder. Not closed tattoo shops and only a bin every few yards. People wander the streets like the pigeons, only the pigeons don’t shit out as much as they do. 

“Man that’s a lot of money!” 

I grabbed my wallet, nearly bursting from the money. How could I have been so stupid! I tried so hard not to look like a lost tourist I forgot I practically had a fanny pack wedged down my trousers. In fairness the wallet was only fat due to the Euros and Pounds I still had from the flight, but that didn’t matter. This was the center of illusions and seduction. The wolves had smelt the little lamb that had walked into their mitts. And they were hungry. I jumped at the sentence and began to pick up the pace, my calves screeched a little every time they slammed my Converses onto the flat pavement, making that weird fatty sound worn shoes always make. There was no time to apologize for simulated flatulence. The scared little white boy inside me had taken over the rational multi-cultural part of my brain, and was now screaming some sort of nostalgic Aryan tongue soothing away the amount of poor Black and Hispanic Americans I was paranoid were watching me, my hair being blown away by the wind to reveal a little powder head, leaving only a patch of my dark brown hair, which curled into the shape of a Buddhist symbol robbed from peace and tranquility and stuffed into the Reich war machine. 

My paranoia stopped as I realized two things. The first was that I had reached the “end” of the Walk of Fame. It was obviously the beginning from my perspective but it was the end in terms of its origination (further west) and the fact that I didn’t know a single name on the stars. Not one rang a bell. Not even vaguely. Which may be a faux pas on my part since I supposedly studied film history, theory, and production for four years, but still. The other thing I noticed was a man walking in front of me. Late twenties, maybe early thirties, good looking, dressed smartly, fine blue shirt, looked like perfect husband/father material. He even had his own shopping trolley, filled with his stuff, so he was ready to move in whenever. It was so strange seeing this guy homeless. Maybe it was only recently. Maybe it was only a few days or hours ago. It was definitely a shock to me. Minus the shopping cart he seemed as if he was the type of guy you would hire for a job because of his outstanding college degrees. For this man, no matter where he was, he was always at the end of the Walk of Fame. I forget if I walked around him, or if he turned down a different direction, but for a mile or so, we walked at the same pace, like he was a Sherpa guiding me through a mountain range filled with wild animals hiding in the shadows of the morning cast by the buildings and stop signs. He was a few feet ahead of me, plowing through the heat like Inuit boots cutting through sheets of snow, or camel hooves kicking up universe sized grains of sand. 

At some point along the line we lost each other, and I had headed down a small gay district between Hollywood and Sunset. It didn’t seem as strange as it would have been any other day of the week; Pride Parade was this Sunday, I just assumed it was more for the celebrations than a normal occurrence. But seemed like a bizarre contrast to the next turn I took, sinking myself into Sunset, watching stream upon stream of Mexicans stand outside Home Depots and other assortments of department stores. I vaguely recalled plugging my gaping mouth with a cigarette as I goose-stepped lazily across the street opposite them, all lined up with their backs against a wall, like they were standing in front of a firing squad, hoping to be able to dodge the bullet of border patrol. I remember hearing that in a firing squad one of the guns is cocked with a fake bullet, a flash cap. The reason for this is so the men in the firing squad can know they have a one in ten or one in five chance of being the blank, therefore they can’t tell if they were the shot that made the kill or not. I have a funny feeling Immigration have a similar policy. Remember numbers, not names. You want to deport illegal alien number zero zero zero one five eight two zero seven; no problem. You want to deport Sanchez, the father of three children, one with polio, who makes his money cleaning up the shit Americans are too lazy to do themselves; well now we have a problem. 

It dawned on me slightly, as I was making my way up to my hotel, that I was just like them. I was still an Immigrant. Granted I had a visa, and it was only until October or so, but still. I had to have my papers on me at all times, I was still limited by the amount of jobs I could be available for, housing is a problem as well, I still needed to register for Social Security, and even when I jump through all these hoops and more, they can still send me back whenever they want. Literally the second they don’t like the look of me, they can hurl me back on that fucking plane and flip me off as I go through another eleven plus hours over the world. If they want to they can do it without a single reason. I decided to get some coffee. 

“Hi! Welcome to Starbucks!” The gay barista behind the counter said with a lisp. 

I tried not to laugh.
TO BE CONTINUED…

Conor Matthews, who is a regular contributor to DDA, can be reached at: matthewsconor@hotmail.com, and at Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/conorelmo.

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