Gone to Glendale

Walking through the Pratt campus one hot sticky day in the late spring of 1989, I made the decision to just go for it.  My friend Jordan had invited me to stay the whole summer with him in LA.

Yeah, California.

Though I’d moved all by widdle self to New York a couple of years prior, I never thought it would be possible to go back to LA, to Hollywood, to the place I never wanted to leave, a town that had in fact, kind of haunted me all through the 80’s.  From 1982 (when I moved from California) to 1989 so much had to have changed, I went from 14 to 22 years old, and man, that’s everything.  I was still young enough to think that everything in Hollywood must have also changed too.  Would I even recognize it?

Now at 46 years old I really laugh at such thinking.

We were wrapping up the spring semester at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, I wasn’t paying that much attention to the year of Foundation Art I was required to take.  I had my mind on other things.  I was in love, in love with my girlfriend Isabelle.  It was fantastic and exhausting for both of us.

She really looked forward to my going back to Miami (where we were both from) with her for the summer so we could get to know our families better.  I did too.

But when that invite came, it just awakened so many things in me.  Lost opportunities; the chance to go back to my childhood.  Catching up with old abandoned friendships.  I wanted to see what Hollywood was like from my new perspective.  I was 22, a New Yorker, a badass!  I couldn’t wait, I had to go.  I never seriously considered going to Miami after that open ended invite (“buy a ticket, call me, I’ll pick you up at the airport,” Jordan had said back in March).

I broke the news to Isabelle.  She was sad, but she loved me and supported me.  But she was sad, she asked me if I was sure, all full of hope that I might change my mind.  I was so excited about this rewind, this chance to make up for old regrets, that it crowded out any thoughts that I would miss her.  Missing was like an intellectual exercise.  And I was going west to exorcise my LaLa Land demons.

I had some money saved from work study and bought a ticket out of LaGuardia.  I called Jordan, he was really excited, we talked about how we would do all the fun things we did when he was back at Pratt.  That consisted mostly of thrift store visits and drinking bourbon and smoking cigars back in the dorm.

I thought constantly about how the whole landscape of the world had changed in the 7 years I’d been gone.  I mean, everything seemed different, music had changed, movies had gotten bigger, more epic (thanks to the popularity of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in my opinion).  There was even a different President.  LA was gonna blow me away!

As the departure date neared I thought of Isabelle.  We spent so much time together, all the time we weren’t in class, in fact.  We were copacetic, whispering, in our own world.  I realized with creeping unease that I was really going to miss her.

But the pull of Hollywood; it’s hard to explain the feeling of having been compelled to leave a place you love.  For me it left a kind of hole in my heart, a melancholy, a what-could-have-been.  Living in Miami 5 years and New York 2, I still rooted for the Dodgers and the Rams, I always tried to keep an eye on what was going on out there, the best I could anyway.

Isabelle was kind and supportive but I knew that she thought I was choosing California over her.  But it wasn’t like that, at least not in my mind.  I was choosing Hollywood over Miami; I knew Isabelle and I would still be together when we both got back to New York.  The previous equivocation was like apples and oranges to me.  I couldn’t relate.  But I sure was sad in the taxi on the way the airport.

In the air, winging west, I started to remember the fact that Jordan and I didn’t always get along so well.  I was sure things would be different  in a new setting.

Jordan was an unusual personality (see previous story “Thank You…For Whatever Comes”).  We got along best when at a flea market or thrift store.  Other than that we kind of rubbed each other the wrong way.  Though we both were from Miami (well, me, sort of) our experiences couldn’t have been more different.  It came down to “comfort of living” (I guess is how I should put it).  He had money, I didn’t.  He was a little more adventurous as a result, I wasn’t.  I considered him to have had many more life experiences than I did.  If I really thought about all this I’d conclude we probably didn’t even like each other that much.

But at least I finally had a girlfriend.  Ahhh, Isabelle…..

Jordan picked me up at LAX, just like he’d promised.  I couldn’t believe I was in LA again, finally!  I went outside and breathed the smog deeply in, staring at the palm trees, so different from Miami’s.  I noticed Jordan was kind of grouchy.  He was quiet.  Driving to his apartment in his blue Cherokee, he finally admitted to me that he didn’t really think I’d come out to LA.  He was kind of surprised actually.  I felt weird as a result.  Because I was going to be there all summer, that was the plan, after all.  I told him that and he replied, “No man, it’ll be great.”

We drove not to Hollywood, but to Glendale.  Glendale…  I didn’t really know Glendale, didn’t know how far it was from Hollywood.  The only thing I remembered as reference was the old Glendale Federal commercials on KTLA in what seemed like forever ago.

We pulled into the parking garage at 200 Chestnut, right off of Brand Blvd., Glendale’s main drag. I went in and dropped my bag in Jordan’s sparsely furnished yet kitsch filled apartment.  I sat down.  Right then and not a second later did I realize that coming out to California was a big mistake.  I felt a crushing weight on me, what was this?!!

I really missed Isabelle.  I really missed Isabelle – but not the way I was gonna REALLY miss her later in the summer.

The first few weeks consisted of me tagging along with Jordan back and forth to Cosmetique, a company he worked for (they were beauty product wholesalers, think of Jordan as a kind of Avon Lady).  He was trying to get into the Cal Arts Animation Department; he’d just concluded an unhappy semester at USC and was sure that if his dad, Dickie, was willing to come up with the money, he’d be really happy at Cal Arts.

Jordan had an inner dissatisfaction with everything, that’s why he’d left Pratt and was now grousing about USC.  It was why he had just moved and later that summer would move again.

We drove around and hit a few Goodwill’s and a few flea markets, rekindling a little bit of the New York friendship we’d had the previous year.  We visited a friend of his who wrote an underground magazine called “Disneyland Babylon.” All the while I just HAD to see Hollywood!  I thought about it all the time.  Well, I thought about Isabelle all the time.

I thought about Hollywood in the letters I would write to Isabelle every single day.  Every day (we could rarely afford to call long distance).  I had to, I felt like just in those short times I was actually talking to her.  I missed her so much and it got worse every day.  She must have felt the same way, because a few days after my arrival I received my first letter addressed to Mr. Bill Hardesty, 200 Chestnut St, Glendale CA.

She also wrote me every single day.  I lived for those letters; I would walk over to Brand Blvd and pick up a couple of Ciscos (a super fueled wine cooler that I was starting to favor – 40 proof) and sip them while reading her letters.  I liked getting buzzed, it made me less sad for a bit.

Jordan may have been surprised that I actually “showed up” in LA but at least he was trying hard to make the best of it and have a good time.  I, on the other hand, sank quickly into the morass of the forlorn, blue, moping and sad.  Missing Isabelle.  I was utterly miserable, even thinking of it now makes me miserable!

Isabelle got a job as a waitress at Ruby Tuesday’s; she was making money for the next semester at Pratt (they really tried to bleed us dry financially, I have to say).  Isabelle and I could barely keep up with the monetary demand that was college.  I knew I needed a job too.  The idea of working though…..in my life I never hated work as much as I did in my early twenties, no other time comes close.  With a resistant heart I walked up and down Brand Blvd. filling out applications.

Record stores, used book stores, I bought a few old books and magazines about Hollywood as my savings rapidly depleted.  All the while I lost any connection that I was actually in LA.  I missed Isabelle, I still hadn’t been over to Hollywood, and Glendale was so antiseptic and …not Hollywood.  My only connections to my Cali past were the Carl’s Jr.’s restaurants I saw here and there.

Jordan: grumpy

Jordan: grumpy

Jordan got an afternoon off and decided to drive to Hollywood.  He really didn’t see the appeal; as he had no problem telling me over and over.  It was scummy; it was seedy, blah blah blah.  But I tensed in anticipation as we got on the freeway and…..oh, we’re already here!   I could hardly believe it, it was maybe 2 exits past Glendale and we were suddenly driving on Sunset and Hollywood Blvds, it was a world and an era apart from Glendale and I loved it!  Finally!  This is what I was here for.  It looked just the same to me, like I’d just left the day before, like all the times I dreamed of it in Miami but didn’t think possible.  Even most of the stores and theaters were as I remembered them.

I brought with me one phone number, one connection to my old Junior High School life, my friend Enrique.  I had called him but he was at work at a bookstore in Little Armenia, so I had Jordan stop at the Villa Elaine Apartments on Vine St.  He complained about being worried we’d be robbed but I didn’t care.  He simmered in his car across the street while I waited for someone to leave through the gated front door.  Then I walked in, almost sprinting up the stairs to my old friend Derek’s apartment.  I had no idea if he still lived there but 1982 seemed so recent to me all of a sudden, maybe he was still there.

I knocked on the door and his mom answered, saying he wasn’t home.  She didn’t seem to remember me.  Thinking of her expression, I started to get the sense that maybe Hollywood and the people I knew had all moved on.  This realization made me long for Isabelle even more.  I hadn’t thought that possible but there it was.

We went back to Glendale.  I got drunk on Ciscos.  Jordan re-dyed his hair.  I had been drinking a little much the past year but during that summer in LA I really stepped things up.  I couldn’t deal with being lovesick, I hated the feeling so I anesthetized myself the best I could.  I mean I couldn’t talk about it or go to Miami, I couldn’t afford that.  At night I dreamed not of Hollywood but of Isabelle, That simply caused me to wake up even more miserable.

Jordan was really sick of it, a few weeks after my arrival in May he already wished me gone.  I could tell this, and now, looking back, who could blame him?  But at the time I thought he was an insensitive schmuck.  He was in between girlfriends and was sick of my pining and waiting for letters from my beloved.  I didn’t care.  We argued a lot, other times we just didn’t speak.

We got along at the movies, and luckily they were some of the best in years that summer; “Batman,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and one of my all-time favorites, “Do the Right Thing” (which also made me think of Brooklyn and who?  Yeah, her).

Stroud’s Linens called and offered me a job.  That was my worst week of work ever.  I forlornly folded sheets and slowly walked the aisles, just thinking of Isabelle.  I walked out of there on my eighth workday during lunch and never returned.  Jordan was pissed.  The next week I found that Isabelle was “supportively disappointed” (my words – not hers) in one of her wonderful letters.

Somehow Jordan and I survived my being there.  I eventually got to see Enrique, visited his house, and felt really weird (for both of us) that he was now an adult and all the while I had expected him to be 14 years old.  Everything had really changed and it was time for me to move on, like everybody else had.

In July Jordan was accepted to Cal Arts and we moved his genie sculptures and Elvis posters and 50’s boomerang coffee table to Circle J Ranch Rd in Valencia.  At least now I could smoke and drink by the subdivision’s pool, and not cooped up, being icily regarded.  Now I actually was far from Hollywood but I didn’t care, I just wanted to go home and see my Isabelle.

Have I mentioned yet that I really missed her?

By the time Jordan dropped me off at LAX Jordan and I were barely speaking.  But I was so excited; much more by my departure than by my arrival 10 weeks earlier.  Isabelle and I had been counting down to my moment of arrival back in New York for weeks.  She had already left Ruby Tuesday’s, her family, and Miami and was waiting for me at LaGuardia as I winged back east.

Me: always looking back

Me: always looking back

All I had to show for my summer of adventure was an aggravated drinking habit and a busted friendship.  But I had all those letters and the promise of seeing Isabelle again.  All that time she’d known something I didn’t.  It wasn’t all apples and oranges after all; she knew I would miss her as much as she did me the whole time.  She tried to tell me too.

I couldn’t deal with those feelings of loss, however temporary they were, so I drank to get over it.  In the taxi back home to the Pratt dorm we couldn’t believe we were again in the presence of the ones we had thought of so obsessively.  It was literally too good to be true.

We picked up where we left off and were again inseparable.  But those feelings and my attendant insecurities were so strong I just couldn’t deal with them.  I kept drinking too much.  I’d developed a proclivity in California.  A higher tolerance was my only real souvenir that I’d brought back from there.  And the only thing I guess I’d learned was that as everybody moves on, so too should I.  Oh, and that heartache could be mollified by alcohol, at least temporarily.

Hollywood, after only 7 years away, really was the same.  I hadn’t counted on the fact that all the kids I knew had, however, grown up.  So much happens between 14 and 22.  In my mind I kind of had it all backwards.  It was almost like I thought because I’d missed it so much, they’d missed me too and were just waiting for me, like Derek in his apartment at the Villa Elaine (I never did see him that summer).

Isabelle and I, after many fits and starts over the years, got married in 2007.  We held onto and still have all those old letters.  Even after being broken up for years we held onto those letters and I guess our hopes too, it turned out.  We still remember well the feelings of young agonizing love and what happens when sudden separation occurs.

And she still asks me why I went out to California in the summer of ’89.

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