When I read William Faulkner’s work I feel like a child who’s been caught watching something he’s not supposed to be watching.
That’s why I space out my reading to about a book of his every few years. As I Lay Dying, Light in August, The Sound and the Fury—currently, I’m with Sanctuary…
I feel like I should be reading it through a peephole.
It was Natalie’s idea to meet at the Griffith Observatory. It was one of her favorite places, and I had never been—I was still kinda new to Los Angeles—so it was a perfect first-date spot.
I arrived early—right on time, actually. I parked my rental car in the main lot closest to the Observatory and walked over to the Astronomer’s Monument on the front lawn to wait for her. I stood in front of the large structure with Galileo and the other concrete boys overlooking the parking lot.
Throngs of pilgrims hoofing it from their parking spaces down the hill passed by us. I had an idea of what Natalie looked like—she had posted a couple pics of her face on her HowAboutWe profile, but nothing full-body—so I paid attention to any lone female coming up the path. Online dating had prepared me to be disappointed, because it had already disappointed me on a number of occasions. Photos, no matter how candid, can still be doctored.
But there she was. I recognized her. Even from this distance I could tell the face she presented in selfie-style was the same one heading toward me, except this time it was hidden under a pair of Jackie-O’s. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
As she neared, I smiled and scoped her blue velour tracksuit.
Natalie was late, apologetic, and the skinniest girl I had ever met for a date.
We hugged, and I thought: Anorexia? Bulimia? What’s it gonna be?
Like all men I have a sexual bucket list, which I’m trying to check the fuck out of. Most of the fantasies are porn-inspired and pretty much impossible (I will never have the money, stamina, or lack of fear of STDs necessary to make them cum true). Others I was forced to add to the list, because they really happened—and I feared that if I didn’t add them and check them off, then I might end up repeating them. So if anybody out there has listed “stripper takes a shit on your bedroom floor,” well, I’ve beaten you to it, pal. But skinny gal—with or without the eating disorder—is definitely somewhere on my list.
Plus, Natalie was very pretty, and I wondered what was happening under the velour. How pronounced were her hipbones? Was the weight loss a new development? And if so, had she had time to buy new panties to go with her atrophy?
But beyond the allure of skinny sex, the two of us hit it off from the start. Sometimes that happens—within seconds of meeting someone you feel like you’ve known them for years, and now, finally, you’re both getting around to visiting the Observatory together.
This was her place, so I put her in charge of the itinerary
“I haven’t eaten yet,” I said, “so I was wondering if maybe after this we could get a bite, if you know a place around here.”
“Oh,” she said, almost coyly. “I kinda have an issue with food.”
I knew it! I thought. No shit. But then I thought about her word choice—issue. Why “issue”? Was it political? Was she vegan? Would I have to reveal that I was the son of a butcher? Were we gonna fight before we even swapped telescopic looks to the sky?
“Oh, OK,” I said. “What’s the issue?”
“You should probably have a drink when I tell you.”
I didn’t want to push it—we weren’t even that far into the lobby. Was there a bar onsite?
“All right,” I said. “You can tell me whenever you want.”
Natalie liked buildings. More specifically, she liked buildings that were about to be torn down. Vacant. Neglected. Dangerous.
Let a building stand unoccupied long enough, and people will find a way inside it. To pick its bones for scrap. To create ulcers on its insides. To leave droppings.
Buildings break. And Natalie liked to sneak into them—before they crumbled—and take pictures.
There was a building in Downtown L.A. she’d been staking out for months. Trespassing was a hell of a second-date idea. But until then we had the Observatory, which was very much alive with visitors and sunlight. We waited for a tour guide to fire up a Tesla coil, then we walked outside, up stairs and down stairs. We stopped to take in the view. The Observatory seemed like the perfect place to watch the dome of the world crumble.
Natalie pointed in the direction of her apartment. I was staying in Echo Park, so she shifted her arm to guide me to my temporary home.
“They shot Rebel Without a Cause here,” she said, no longer pointing at anything.
I still haven’t seen the film in its entirety, but I do remember the scene.
“Too bad we didn’t bring our switchblades,” I said. “We could have reenacted it.” (Terrible date idea.)
“There’s a cafe,” she said, “if you’re hungry.”
Through the window of the cafe I saw some pilgrims’ plates loaded with greens and I thought I might be able to get a healthy meal while learning about the stars in the daytime. But it turned out all they were offering on the menu was kung pao chicken with a side of string beans.
Like any gentleman with a sexual bucket list, I was paying, but all Natalie wanted was a bottle of water.
I carried my tray cafeteria-style to a table on the patio. We sat down. She twisted open the cap on her water, as I forked a brace of string beans into my mouth. They tasted like they had come from that section of your fridge where all forgotten veggies go to die, and you only remember them when you start to smell their decomposition over the Indian takeout.
“So,” I said, forcing down the calories. “Are you gonna tell me what your deal with food is?”
She took a sip of water. “You really should have a drink.”
“Do I not want to be eating when you tell me?”
“No, it’s not that.”
“Then go ahead,” I said. I forced another bite. Maybe it was the chicken this time.”
“I can’t eat food,” she said.
“Because I have a rare genetic mutation that affects the connective tissue in my small intestine.”
There was no spit take like in the movies. She was basically telling me that she didn’t have a small intestine. So it wasn’t an eating disorder she had—or it was an eating disorder. A disorder more fucked-up than any amount of barfing.
The plate of food in front of me lay untouched for a little while, as Natalie explained her condition to me.
She had been living a normal life, until the mutation kicked in around her 24th year on planet Earth. For 24 years she had known the taste of food. She lit up with the memory of it. You could see BBQs, junk food, and fancy spreads in her eyes. And for the last six years—Natalie was 30 at the time of our date—her body would not permit her to indulge in even the most innocent of edibles, the most simple of carbohydrates.
“Sugars are particularly dangerous for me,” she said.
I looked down at my plate—at this shitty meal—and felt terrible eating it in front of her.
“Don’t,” she said. “Enjoy it. Enjoy it, because I can’t.”
I wish I could have done that for her, but the food was just too terrible.
She drank from her bottle of water. Her lips made it look delicious and sad. As it turns out she can also drink coffee (black), some teas, and, of all things, vodka.
A small gift, Nature?
Bullshit. You’re a cruel asshole.
But so was I—not cruel per se, but an a-hole, for sure—as I imagined how little vodka it would take to get her drunk.
“But how do you get your calories?” I said.
“Intravenously,” she said. “I’ll show you.”
She took off her velour top, under which she wore a gray cardigan. The cardigan went next, putting up more of a fight than the tracksuit jacket had. Now, sitting before me, in a white tank top, she wasn’t as skinny as I had expected. I was happy about that.
She raised her right arm—as if she were about to flex her guns—to reveal a couple tubes inserted into the skin near her biceps. This was her PICC (pronounced “pick”). This was how she “ate.” Around the PICC were some flecks of the sticky remnants of tape—because when Natalie showers, she has to seal off the PICC. Even water becomes a danger.
Her “food”—amino acids and the other necessary building blocks of food—comes in a bag designed specifically for her by a specialist, who makes sure that in each pouch Natalie is getting every nutrient her body needs to live. (Even her failed small intestine gets to feed at the trough.)
“How many of these bags do you go through?” I said.
“One a day,” she said. “But sometimes I’ll take off a day, depending on how I feel.”
“How long does it take to “eat”?”
“Wait. What?” I said. “12 hours?”
12 fucking hours for the liquid food to run its course through her veins! So, to multitask, she “eats” when she sleeps—hooks up the IV next to her bed.
I felt for the poor girl, but there was still a part of me stroking a pencil over the bucket list, wondering what it would be like to spend the night with her, sharing the bed with Natalie and her drip.
“How much does it cost?” I said—referring to the nutrients, not the threesome!
“$1000 a bag.”
“Holy. Shit,” I said. “That’s $7,000. A week.”
She seemed to enjoy feeding me the details, and I was eating it up, all curiosity at this point. I even had the nerve to ask her how she poops.
“Let’s leave that for the second date,” she said.
I laughed, but couldn’t help but think of her asshole at that moment. Because if Natalie’s small intestine wasn’t functioning, then that meant her digestive track pretty much stopped there, right? You can’t leap from stomach to large intestine and then hit sunlight, can you?
I looked down at my plate. She must have the cleanest asshole in the galaxy.
“This really isn’t any good,” I said, and looked back up at her. “Just so you know.”
“That’s OK,” she said. “Enjoy it.”
The date changed after Natalie’s revelation.
We checked out the gravity exhibit, where you can see how much you weigh on the other planets in our solar system. (Pluto was still included. Its floor scale was the same size as the other heavenly bodies’.)
First, we tested our weights on Earth—I didn’t peek at Natalie’s—then we walked over to Venus. I wonder how much Natalie’s affliction weighed on the goddess of love?
It was a heavy burden, I know, and a lot to drop on an unsuspecting guy on the first date. How many first dates had there been for her? So much of what we do as a species revolves around food and drink, and here was Natalie, so young, so outgoing, a very cool person—and she’d been cut off from the tribe in the most basic of ways. It was beyond unfair.
I know I’ve done a terrible job drawing Natalie for you. I’ve been too caught up on her mutation and my own puerile thoughts—they are the reasons I started writing this piece in the first place: to tell one o my “crazy date stories.” Because of that my memories are tainted, the narrative a bit contrived.
But there is also something else happening—and I only realize it while on a Virgin America flight from JFK to LAX, about a week before Mother’s Day of this year, 2013.
When the date was over I walked with Natalie down to her car, against the steady flow of pilgrims who were hiking up the hill to be closer to the stars.
When we reached her ride, I gave Natalie a hug and told her I’d give her a call. Maybe for our second date we’d check out that building downtown she had told me about—the one they were going to tear down, the one she wanted to photograph before it was gone.
She pulled out of her parking spot, and I started back up the hill—becoming a part of the procession—and wondered where the colostomy bag had been hiding on the skinny girl.
I figured it would take at least one more date to find out… What a piece-of-shit idea, huh? To ask this girl out again just to see. As if she existed just on the off chance that I may want to write about her one day. (If she even wanted to see you again, you arrogant asshole!)
That’s one of the problems of being a writer and a comedian. Sometimes you feel like you’re chasing a story. “Ooh, let me ride this one out, because it’s an interesting premise—and I’ll probably get a bit out of it.”
Its one thing to use what life has already dealt you. It’s another thing to strap a drill to another human being’s digestive track and mine the shit out of it.
I never called Natalie. Contrary to the thoughts that fuck around in my brain and find their way onto this site, I’m just not that kind of guy. I didn’t want to use her for artistic purposes (a term someone else might wield in his defense). I didn’t want to exploit her for carnal reasons—an additional row inserted into the spreadsheet I devote to my sexual bucket list (like my own sex life, I’m still trying to figure out Excel; I may stick to pencil and paper). But more than anything—and I only realized this on the plane from NY to L.A.—I didn’t want to use Natalie to understand love.
When I think about love, I think about my parents. They’ve been married for about as long as I’ve been around, and a few years ago my mother came down with diverticulitis: her small intestine burst, went septic, and she would have died were it not for an emergency operation that removed a length of her intestines (I don’t know how many inches) and created a new hole in her side, so she could defecate (uncontrollably) into colostomy bags. Although humiliating, disgusting, and “so weird” (my mother’s words), the plastic baggies that hung from her side were necessary for her body to heal from the life-saving mutilation of her insides.
For months she and my father worked together to clean and dress the open wound—“her new asshole.” At one point there was a terrible infection, the pain of which I can’t imagine. That needed cleaning too. My mother tells me she couldn’t have done it without my father.
In time the infection healed, as did her small intestine, and my mother’s plumbing was reconnected, finally. They boarded up her new asshole and gave her 64-year-old one back its job.
I imagine that had Natalie and I met and fallen in love before her mutation switched on, I would have been able to walk through it with her—to clean whatever wounds may have come. And if I was eating some awful food, and she asked me to enjoy it—because she couldn’t—I’d be able to do that for her too. I’d even order seconds. Love will do that.
Years ago, a friend brought me to her 10-year high school reunion. We had slept together a number of times during the months leading up to the reunion—but we never got serious. Although I can’t claim to have been amazing in the sack, I was one hell of a date the night members of the graduating class of ’90-something got together in a small catering hall on the east side of Manhattan. I was social, entertaining, the type of wingman you’d want riding alongside you on any mission into your past.
Even though it wasn’t my alma mater, by the end of the night I felt like one of the popular kids in school—except I was “returning” with a full head of hair and a little more youth than my “classmates” (my 10-year was still some years away).
Eventually, my friend wrote a story about that night. It was one of those memoirs-masquerading-as-fiction thingamajigs. I was a character in it. She named me Otto.
In the same story she also wrote about another guy—with whom things had been more serious than they had been with me. And he had these eyes. Although I don’t remember the exact words she used to describe them—something about an aquarium—I do remember being envious of her description of his eyes. Both as a writer and a lover.
She let me read the story, and I gave her notes. I was able to distance myself a good amount from “Otto”—maybe because she had chosen to leave out a lot of details. I’m not sure if it was because she didn’t want to hurt me—I had been such a great date after all—or she felt that those specifics didn’t serve the purpose of the story. Or maybe it was just that I saw a different story.
I met the guy with the beautiful eyes in real life a couple of times and didn’t see in him what she saw. And I tried to, I did—but who gives a fuck? Those eyes she described were all that mattered. What she saw in them. What they made her feel. What she learned from them. Lessons about herself, about love, about always kinda being in high school.
Maybe a part of me, in spite of the distance I gave to the story, wanted to understand why she preferred The Eyes over Otto. Damn, I really wish she wouldn’t have been so careful with Otto. Otto should have suffered some more in the story. He did in real life. But I guess I have the opportunity to tell Otto’s story, if I want to.
We are material, ladies and gentlemen. The storytellers in our lives have us in their outlines. Most of the time they’re going to draw us either uglier than we truly are or more beautiful than we can ever imagine ourselves being. Sometimes they’ll get us dead-on.
I’ve been mining my past relationships for material for a while now. This shit basically writes itself. I approach the subject matter with humor and a confessional spirit I attribute to my exhibitionist tendencies (“Look at me, everybody! Why ain’t cha lookin’?”) and to the Catholicism of my youth.
My first Confession was huge. Corpus Christi Church. CCD. Sometime before my first Communion. It’s bad enough to lie to a child about the nature of the universe; it’s downright disgusting to make that same child confess his “sins” to some stranger in a box. The Church gave us a choice—ha!—to sit behind a partition and confess, or to sit facing the priest, with no barrier between us and just enough room for the Holy Ghost.
I chose to face the priest. It was funny—only now, looking back—how God’s bureaucrat and the neophyte sat facing one another on identical chairs. I don’t remember if my feet could touch the floor, but I do remember how tears were boiling on my cheeks before I even told him how sorry I was for disrespecting my mother, cursing, and whatever wrongs a second grader commits. In the end I was forgiven. I can’t say the same for the priest.
Now, through comedy and writing, I confess my sins. But I do it without looking for forgiveness—at least not from the Big Voyeur upstairs. I’m looking for something else. I’m looking for the Eyes.
And should you find yourself in one of my stories, or scenes, or jokes, please understand that I mean you no harm. I’m not your confessor. And it’s not your story.
Talia was training for a half-Ironman when she messaged me on OkCupid to ask:
“…Of all the erotic sentences you wrote during that post-college stint, would you mind sharing your all-time favorite?”
It turns out my favorite line of smut is also the best line I’ve ever written:
“I felt like I was all dick, and no humanity.”
Mom: I worry.
Son: Please don’t. We were safe.
Mom: Did you wear a condom?
Son: Yeah, that’s what I meant.
Mom: Why? You don’t like this girl?
Son: What? No, I do like her. But you still have to wear condoms.
Mom: Why? She don’t wantta have a baby?
Son: I don’t wantta have a baby.
Mom: Then how you gonna be a father?
Son: I’m not…yet.
Mom: We’ll see.
Son: You seem certain that I can even produce a child.
Mom: You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Mom: You hungry?
Mom: We’ll see.
Fight stories are like sex stories: all you need are a couple really good ones, and people will think you’re doing it all the time.
This is one of my fight stories.
My ex-girlfriend has a crush on James Franco. She’s not the only person who does, I know, but that didn’t make it any less annoying when we were dating. Because anytime James Franco would pop up on the television or we’d pass his image on a billboard or cover of a magazine, my ex would giggle. A grown woman giggling.
“I’m sorry,” she’d say for my benefit, then attempt to contort her mouth out of a smile. Her face neutral, it would still take a minute for the freckles on her cheeks to stop glowing.
Although she never outright told me her James Franco fantasy—we didn’t have that kind of openness in our relationship—I knew what it was. Because I know what the “James Franco fantasy” is—it’s every woman’s fantasy. (Sure, there are slight variations here and there, depending on the gal, but it’s more or less the same.)
My ex has had her typical long day at the office. It’s late when she gets to our front door. Will she be able to make it to the last yoga class of the night?
She opens the door and sees James Franco lying naked on our couch…with his head in my lap.
I’m running my fingers through his hair.
I shoosh her.
James Franco is sleeping.
But I’ll wake him for her sake.
Did you know that James Franco can only be woken up with kisses?
I bend so that my mouth meets his lips.
Like a baby responding to a nipple, James Franco responds to my lips.
I feed him kisses.
I feed my ex’s deepest desires.
I bend James Franco over the arm of the couch and proceed to do indescribable violence to his asshole.
My ex’s freckles are aglow.
I don’t stop, until James Franco bleeds out…
Hey, it’s not my fantasy. Typical girl stuff. Does he always have to bleed out, ladies? Really? So annoying.
I’m happy we never got to play that fantasy out. Because after the breakup, I know I would have been stuck with that couch.
(Originally published March 16, 2011 on my old website)
The following commentary didn’t make it onto the Mad Atoms “Biggie vs. Tupac” page. I hope you enjoy the rejected piece. I wrote it back when temperatures were a lot lower in NYC.
Question: What do New Yorkers think of L.A.?
Answer: We don’t.
Now this may be hard for some Mad Atoms readers to accept at first. I can understand the hesitation. The Biggie vs. Tupac section lays out evidence for an ongoing beef between the East and West coasts. In their rap battles of the mid-90s, Brooklyn-born Biggie flexed some stupendous and lispy fuck-yous. And Manhattan-born Pac talked a lot of (poetic) shit. But we New Yorkers—unlike the two eponyms for this section—don’t care enough to craft comebacks or make cases for our supposed superiority.
Take “Street Cynic: New York,” where R. Will Burns writes about his first trip to New York City. Here is a man who cares so much about making “fun of the biggest city in America” that he books a flight across the country, it seems, just for that purpose. And during his trip, what’s the best takedown Burns can come up with? A guido. Burns flies all the way to New York City and meets a guido.
And how about Hillel Aron’s “Yankee Go Home!”? Another Mad Atoms contributor, Aron takes a more vitriolic approach in his rant. He doesn’t hold back when he takes impatient, car-less, “cavemen” New Yorkers to task for “this whole macho thing going on with cold weather.” Oh yeah—and according to Aron, the biggest assholes seem to be the ones who did not die on September 11,2001!
It’s 26 degrees Fahrenheit today. New York City is a cold, lip-chapping motherfucker. But the low temperatures—which always surprise New Yorkers, even though winter returns each year—aren’t the reason we don’t think about you, Los Angeles. (Hey, we don’t think about you during the warmer seasons either.) The thing is that while reflecting on the differences between L.A. and New York might fill five minutes at an open mic, the whole exercise is pretty hack. Isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong; we don’t think about Tokyo or London or Paris either. Of course, we’ve been to those places—we’ve even been to L.A.—and we have plans to go back. But we don’t measure ourselves against other cities. I can’t imagine even a speck of my identity resting on whether my city has tastier Mexican, worse traffic, or hotter women (that other men are fucking)…
You really think about this shit?
But now that I think about it some more, New York is kind of like the father who abandoned you. You grow up wondering what you did wrong. Later, your guilt turns to hate. And you script out the encounter you want to have with the man. For years you work on this scene, rewriting it so that you’re stronger on each pass. You’ve even shown the script to your close friends, and later, to strangers. You’ve worked on it for so long that you can only accept one ending to that destined encounter: your father begs you for forgiveness.
But what you can’t imagine is that the man who abandoned you—contrary to the story you’ve crafted—hasn’t thought about you at all. No love. No hate. No regret. That motherfucker’s cold.
Yeah, New York’s kinda like that. And I don’t see it warming up anytime soon. Sorry, kid. Stock up on the ChapStick®.
One regret I have about quitting my job as an erotic fiction writer so many years ago is that I never explored the eroticism of a perfect Caesar salad. I never even compared the dressing to semen. And the simile is so obvious!
As an insecure man, I have been amassing an arsenal of verbal comebacks for those who will one day wrong me. I’ve been working on one-size-fits-all quips for years. I might be paranoid, but I am not reckless. I store my comebacks in a safe, of which I am the only one who knows the combination. I take them out every now and then (when no one is around) to clean them and aim them at paper targets in my mind…But I have never gotten the chance to fire them. Yet.
Most of the comebacks were inspired by specific people from my past. Old lovers, old friends, old enemies, old (and young) strangers, they have all hit me when I was at my weakest, when I was unarmed and had no comebacks with which to defend myself. Oh, if they had only attacked me minutes, or days, or weeks later! I’m talking POW! POW! POW!
Over the weekend I was at a park in Santa Monica. There was a pickup basketball game going on. I don’t play, but I like to watch pickup games. I prefer them to the NBA, in part because I like to see regular men on the verge of breaking, either physically or emotionally. I’m not interested in athleticism. Shit-talking is the real game I’m after, which is best played, I think, when there is an even ratio of black guys to not-black guys. Brothers talk the best shit—and if there’s a gangly white dude with bad kicks and knees ready to explode at any moment, the material is wonderful.
On this particular day, there was an older black guy playing. He was the slowest on the court, his hair was out of control (a taper that was evolving into a Cornell-West), and he had the most to say.
I really wished I was a baller then, because if it was me he was making that bullshit traveling call on, I would say,
“Man, just because you wasted eight bucks on those sweats, when you should’ve gotten yourself a fade, doesn’t mean you gotta take it out on me. Travel your ass over to the barber shop.”
Here’s one comeback I have been perfecting for years, but have never used:
SITUATION: A man (or woman) turns to you and says, “What the fuck are you looking at?”
RESPONSE: “I’m sorry for staring. You just look like a friend of mine…who passed away. Today is the one-year anniversary.”
IMPORTANT: If you can will some tears, great. But whether you can or cannot, walk away immediately after delivering these lines. You must not hang around. Do not give the aggressor any opportunity to apologize (if they are even human enough for that). Let them sit. Let them think. Let them look in the mirror and ask their reflection, “What the fuck are you looking at?” Let them answer, “Someone’s dead friend… One day.”
 In my basketball fantasy I always play with change in my pockets. If I make you look like an idiot on the court (and I always do), I toss coins at your feet.
 Oh, also: in my basketball fantasies I am so good at basketball (and fighting) that I have a pass to use the N-word on the court.
I spent the morning of my 31st birthday (February 26, 2013) running the stairs of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California. Actually, I only spent around one hour and 49 minutes running up and down the stairs. In that time I completed 31 ascents from the Bowl’s orchestra pit (section 24) to the nosebleeds. A straight line from pit to top is about 168 steps. So, I made it up 5,208 steps of various sizes (not counting the ones on the way down).
My friend, comedian Danny Jolles, made the 7:45AM call-time and took his own route up and down what the Bowl had to offer. My friend/comedy partner/and sometimes savior, Greg Burke, missed the start of the fun but arrived around the halfway point with his camera. So there may come a day when you can watch me do a little bit of birthday stair-climbing. (Before Greg arrived, I shot some shaky footage of me running, as well as cutaways to me revealing a birthday candle to mark each time I made it to the uppermost plateau.)
Why did I do this?
Well, I can say that I like running stairs—and I do. It’s challenging and a great workout—and planted somewhere in my unconscious is the image of the character Shute, Louden Swain’s wrestling nemesis in the ‘80s flick Vision Quest: Shute is climbing the bleachers of a stadium, carrying what looks like a fallen redwood stretched across his shoulders. He looks grass-fed and, ultimately, Christ-like with that log. (*Spoiler alert*—Shute will be sacrificed, so that Louden may ascend.)
I like ascending. If I do it enough times—if I make it up enough steps—it feels like a kind of meditation. The music shuffling on my iPhone fades. The pain in my hamstrings fades. The fantasies in my head fade.
The one about climbing so high I reach the walls of some monastic order. The porter, bald and convincingly celibate, welcomes me inside, but I’m like, “Nah. My car’s parked down in the lot. It’s a rental…And the next time I run up here, you don’t have to go to the trouble of opening the door. It looks heavy.”
Then there’s the Incan fantasy, where I lead myself to the slaughter, one step at a time (wearing my yellow Vibrams). I lay myself on the sacrificial altar, and when it comes time for the high priest to cut out my heart, I give him this cool look, and hop to my feet to bang out the first of a dozen or so burpees. Only on my last jump, suspended a few feet above the altar, my heart bursts through my chest, and the high priest and his attendants struggle to catch my ever-pumping corazon. I have no idea if my organ donation brings forth a prosperous year—because the fantasy breaks down and is pumped into my bloodstream long before the answer comes.
But an unrelated answer does come. An answer to what, I’m not sure. By the time it does come, reality has faded some too—I’m no longer a struggling comedian or even the weirdo wearing a rainbow beanie and foot gloves, charging up and down the Bowl, while the crewmen prepare the place (just good enough) for the next concert or concert season… I’m nothing. But I’m a kind of nothing I can deal with. And that “knowledge” (or the endorphins) propels me through the day.
I like telling people about the Bowl. Most don’t know you’re allowed to run there in the first place. You are. It’s a public park. Go for it. (Go early, when there’s still a chill in the air. It’s wonderful to feel the temperature change. You wonder, is that me or the Sun doing this?)
And I like being able to tell people that I ran it 31 times—which is another reason why I did it: to be able to say, “Hey, I did this on my birthday.”
Fifteen days before my b-day I jacked my knee with a combination of morning Bowl-running and evening Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Over a week later I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who, at 6’9,” made me think one of the dumbest thoughts I’ve ever had: “Isn’t he too tall to be a doctor?”
Dr. Giant saw nothing wrong in the X-ray of my knee, which was feeling much better at the time. He said it could be what’s called a plica, which is an inflammation that comes about through overuse of the knee. Oh, like running stairs non-stop for an hour at a time?
To be sure he prescribed an MRI, which I managed to schedule the day before my birthday. Day-of I wrapped my knee. (I’m still waiting for the MRI results.)
It’s no great feat what I did. Other people do this kind of stuff—only way harder—all the time. But it was at least a moment in time where I felt accomplished and lamely heroic. “Lou, imagine if your knee had snapped in half…Would that have stopped you from getting your 31 in?”
It’s this kind of pathetic manmade heroism. You set goals you know you can reach, with the idea that if you can be “brave” here and push through the low ends of the pain scale, you may be brave elsewhere, when it’s truly needed down the line.
In my case, I was kind of working it in reverse. Because I’d already had the opportunity to be a hero. I’d had the chance to go all the way, but I didn’t. And it happened at the Hollywood Bowl.
I flew in to LAX from stairless Brooklyn (via JFK) on January 8, 2013. A few mornings later I was at the Bowl, feeling at home. I trotted down to Section 24 and noticed a pair of black panties lying on the ground at the threshold of one of the box seats and my walkway. The ground was wet with morning dew, and I imagined what concert had inspired the woman wearing those drawers to take them off. Had she thrown them at the band, only to have a member throw them back? Were there even any concerts in January? Or maybe she and a lover had fucked at the Bowl, after the workmen had left?
I touched the guardrail that would separate future audiences from the orchestra pit and took off running up the stairs. (The first trek up always feels like a bad idea. It takes me a few to get warm.) On my way back down to Section 24, the panties were still there, although they seemed to be what I can only describe as “filled.” It was like an invisible pelvis was wearing them.
It was early. I hadn’t run these stairs in over a month. I was winded. My eyes weren’t to be trusted. So I just hopped over the panties—the hop was unnecessary—touched the guardrail and jogged back up to the top.
On my return I noticed that the pelvis had somehow become visible. It looked like flesh—legless and sans torso, but flesh! I was too creeped out to reach down and touch it, so I just tapped the guardrail and took off running up the stairs. Not the way women run up stairs in horror movies when the killer’s chasing them—not like that. Because I wasn’t scared. I actually halted on one of the lower plateaus, jogged in place for a bit, and looked back at the strange form wearing the black panties.
“Where are the workers?” I thought. None were in sight. They were on break, I guessed. “What’s going to happen when I reach the top of the Bowl, and then come back down to Section 24?”
I hopped in place, foot to foot, keeping my heart rate up. There it was, a thigh sticking out of one of the underwear’s leg holes. The left one. The thigh was toned, hairless, feminine. I’d seen ones like it before, on the legs of girls I’d been with who played coed soccer for ZogSports, or were trying out “this CrossFit thing,” or were ashamed of their thickness. Yes, it was a beautiful thigh.
Recognizing the pattern, I made sure to touch the guardrail again—this time with a pitter-patter, just to be sure. Then I darted back up to the top, where it took me a few more seconds to catch my breath. I couldn’t wait to see what had appeared on the figure while I was gone. Back down I went.
There was a bellybutton above the elastic waistband. And above the navel a scar from a piercing given up years ago!
And it was here that the thigh—well, the three-piece unit of thigh, pelvis, and navel began to move. To contort. But not in a painful way. It looked like it was waking up. I could imagine the rest of its body covered by a blanket—it wasn’t 8:00AM yet. How long would it take to wake the whole thing up?
Guardrail touched. Top step mounted. I almost tripped on the way down.
Both cheeks! What form! So the panties were boy shorts. A little on the tight side—but with such a tiny waist and athletic booty, sizing must be difficult.
The ass and the thigh stirred, pushing itself over into what would be described as a facedown position (if there was a face). A little wedgie with no fingers to pick it out. God, it looked like some twisted madman had taken apart an Olympian!
Guardrail. Up the stairs—the last flight I had to walk. I picked up the pace again on the way down.
The thigh had grown a knee!
After the next trip, a left flank appeared. Later, a breast. Without areola or nipple. Those appeared on the next two passes. What a tease!
I tried to keep a steady pace, but I had to stop halfway up the stairs to take a breath and stretch out my left leg. I wondered what would happen if I just went back down. So I did.
Nothing happened. Nothing changed.
I was feeling the onset of exhaustion, when I decided to touch the figure. I squatted. My knees cracked. I reached out and noticed the nipple, which had appeared atop the areola only minutes before, was fading. It was as if it was being airbrushed out of existence right before me. When it was gone, the areola followed.
I took off running up the stairs, busted my ass on one of the flights with the longer steps. Palms scraped and breathing heavily, I hobbled the rest of the way up. I made sure to touch the top—I even dragged my feet across it. Back down I went to find the areola in tact.
There was no half-assing this. It was all or nothing.
I touched the guardrail and struggled back up the stairs, then struggled back down. All that for a nipple to reappear!
The form tossed and turned like it was still sleeping. Maybe it was dreaming up the rest of its body.
Rail. Up again, I climbed. Down I limped.
The other knee…!
I managed another 168 steps up, but it was torture. I stopped so many times I wasn’t sure if the ascent would count. But when I came back down, there was an ankle waiting for me to look at.
I leaned my ass on the guardrail and watched the figure that was somehow coming together, as I was breaking apart…
And just like that, the ankle I had struggled so hard to make appear started to fade.
My hands were already on the guardrail, but I took them away anyway, gave it a second, then slapped them back down on the railing. I marched up the walkway to the first of the stairs. I looked back to see the shin disappearing the way things disappear in dreams.
At the top of the Bowl, I looked down at Section 24. My eyesight is shit, but I wasn’t expecting to see anything from up there. And when I finally made my way back down, she…I can’t really call it a she. Whatever. She was all gone. Even the panties. There was nothing left. It was a kind of nothing I couldn’t deal with.
I sat in the driver’s seat of my rental car and wondered, how many more times would it have taken to make this woman appear? How many more steps would it have taken to wake her into this world.
I’m afraid I will never know. But I tried 31 on my birthday just to see if it would do any good. 5,208 steps…
I should have kept running the stairs until my leg snapped, or I completely disappeared.