There’s only one book that’s ever made me cry. Winnie the Pooh came close, The Koran left me right on the verge, but it was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road that put me over the edge. It wasn’t like Toy Story 3 crying, and not even your-team-getting-relegated crying, it was just a bit of face moisture. If I’ve now denounced my right to being a “real man”, so be it. I didn’t like carpentry anyway.
Specifically, it was this paragraph:
I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.
It reminded me (and still does) of the first night of my life I ever spent alone, in a forgotten town in Bolivia, which marked the first time I ever did anything for myself without having someone there to help me. Back in those days I still expected a lollipop when I went to the dentist. I won’t try and describe that night because it’ll be impossible to confer exactly how I felt and no one wants to read yet another blog post about a journey of self-discovery from a gap year traveller. You’ve probably read seven today already. So let’s get on with the story.
“So that’s a good feeling for you?” Mia queried after reading the printout of the quote I was carrying around in my rucksack. If Mia sounds familiar, it’s because we’re in Los Angeles again; this is the same woman who could be found weeping outside a public library a few hours earlier.
“Well, err, yeah,” I said. “I mean, sort of.”
“You like feeling haunted and sad and like a ghost? Like your life is just one little insignificant dot in a vast chasm of other little dots? Being in a place where nobody knows who you are, nobody speaks your language and can’t communicate with you, and a place where you could die and feasibly none of your loved ones would know for at least a few days makes you feel good?”
“Now that you put it like that…” I said, feeling foolish.
“I’m not trying to say you’re wrong. I just want to understand. It sounds awful to me. Personally, I need people around me, people I love and can trust. Moving to L.A. was a big thing for me because I didn’t know anyone here, apart from my boyfriend I moved with. It was hard at first, but I joined groups and went to bars and met people. I soon settled, although I still fucking hate the drivers here. God damn them all to hell.”
This conversation was turning darker than a gritty remake of an Aronofsky film. I wanted to lighten the mood – we needed less Mike Leigh and more Mike Myers. And the wine was going to my head.
We were sat on stools at the bar, under the silky red lighting of this Los Angeles bar, sampling a number of wines. Mia knew the barman, a lovely Italian-looking guy with a hint of the cynical about him which endeared me to him immediately, so we got a few extra tasters on the house. They all tasted like wine to me but I was assured they were only the finest.
“Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?” I asked.
“I was invited to Leonardo DiCaprio’s party,” Mia said.
“Really?!” I said, as eager as I could manage without squeaking.
“Yeah, it was at his mansion up in the hills,” she said nonchalantly.
“What was it like? Did you speak to him? What was he like? What was he wearing? Did you speak to him?”
“I didn’t get a chance to speak to Leo, but Adrian was there.”
“Brody. You know, with the nose.”
“Oh, cool. Did you speak to him?”
“No, but David was there.”
“Cronenberg?” I queried.
“Duchovny. The X-Files and Californication guy.
“Sweet! What was he like? As cool and funny as the parts he plays?”
“Well, actually I didn’t speak to him either. But…”
This exchange went on for a while, until Mia finally came clean. “Umm, well…okay, so I didn’t actually meet Leo, or any of them. I saw them. Some of them. In a restaurant. Okay, just Sean Penn.”
“Oh,” I said. “Is that all?”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
We headed back to her place after that. Even after four or five wines she didn’t hesitate in hopping into the driver’s seat. “How else are we going to get home?” She asked. “Besides, I won’t drive any worse than anyone else on the road.” It was a twenty-minute drive and although I could fault her driving in about a hundred places, she was true to her word. It seems that as long as everyone drives badly in L.A., the equilibrium is maintained and the system works. That’s what Mia claimed anyway.
It was gone 4 a.m. by the time we actually got to bed. I was on the sofa, Mia in her bed. I heard some creaks and some hisses, and a few sad sounds, but I knew who I was and where I was. This wasn’t an old unfamiliar hotel, this was a home; not mine, but a home nonetheless. I was welcome and wanted. I didn’t feel like a ghost.
That’s all well and good and everything but Mia overslept and made me miss my bus the next morning. That never happened in tiny Bolivian towns.