by Jess Mize
The young boy was an actor. He had stains on his teeth and scars on his wrists. He loved to daydream, he loved to wallow around to his favorite sad indie music, but most of all he loved to entertain. To be entertained was charming, but to be entertaining was enchantment itself. It was the buzz of a magical spell, a fantastical light-headedness that preceded and followed along with his visionary alchemy.
The images he created were crystallized champagne bubbles that his audience not only thought and saw and felt, but tasted as well. Tasted with all the longings of their secret selves. The young boy could make your dreams taste like beautiful sparkles.
The thrill of applause was one like no other. A standing ovation was a rush of adrenaline like kissing your high-school crush. Except with the ovation, there was the roar not only of your heart throbbing in your ears, there was an actual roar of communal approval over not a romantic affectation, but of a cosmically understood feeling of everything that was beautiful, of anything being possible if the actor’s spirit moved you.
He could repeat gestures, scenes over and over without them losing any of their sentimental original transience. His performance with each successive turn was the shape of things to come, the protean possibilities of what might be, if only one were fortunate enough to believe. Or earnest enough to be entertained.
The young boy learned in one fell swoop of his powers and of the neurotic, mysterious trance of performance art. It was like seeing lightning strike a natural object right in front of your eyes, the electrical force penetrating your mind and becoming a live, vibrating current in the conduit of your brain waves.
It first happened how situations occurred and developed in dreams. There was a floating ethereal quality to all the material objects and people around him, and he was able to summon thoughts from the unexplored geography of his mind, ideas and images he did not consciously know. Materialistic emanations that neither he nor anyone else had ever even imagined.
He had been ten years old then, the son of a creeper, I mean preacher, in suburban Los Angeles. Everyone was a creeper in Los Angeles. The professional creepers and the amateurs comprised all the people that made the city their home. There were not truly any real actors in the city at all, just professionals of another sort. It seemed like every last one of them. Perhaps not Edward Droste or Rostam Batmangli.
It was hard to breathe in that city but most likely at about the same rate as anyplace else. Exhaust fumes mingled invisibly with the air in perfect progress of the modern age, in all places, at all times. But Los Angeles was special because it was where narcissists came from all over the earth to say their lines and groom their own egos in the mirrors of each other’s eyes. In the billions of liquid crystal displays that typical Americans interacted with more than with their own minds, their own hearts.
The UV rays of the sunlight came through a porous combustible smog and while it was always sunny and 67 degrees, the sun never warmed your skin and it was beyond goddamn unhealthy. There was no humidity. The young boy had not recalled sweating since his family moved to California. That sticky-sweet sweat that had been an enervating, enjoyable memory of his earlier years back in the south. There were no flowers and all the landscape design of the city itself felt like one of the fake plastic sets of a slick studio over in the Hollywood lots. Although set was an antiquated term since nearly all films were made now on location using real life landscapes, architecture, and interior design. Only the production remained as a strictly local Los Angeles business.
The young boy had been in church service at the Methodist chapel listening to his father give a droning, nonsensical sermon about Noah and his sons. It was a story his father harped on at the dinner table and in the aisles of the Clean Air Grocery in the blocks uptown. It made the young boy laugh to hear it and he would sometimes repeat comical variations of his father’s orations to his brother late at night on the fate of the lineage of Noah’s sons.
The setting was a Sunday evening in mid-April. The sky outside the chapel was a languid blue-grey etching by Van Gogh. Through the stained-glass eyes of the chapel windows, the light outside could have been absolutely any tint at all. It was a really, laid back congregation of the faithful at his father’s Methodist church, but they tithed well. The young boy thought it was interesting that everyone in their fellowship was white. And not only white, so spooky white, where a stuffy sticky normal vibe clung to their shadows like the smog clung to the L.A. air. He wondered why different ethnicities did not come together to worship their god or gods like they joined in sporting events, professional settings… at movie theatres. In the middle of his thoughts, as his father was pontificating on Ham’s offense and the church members sat listening in less than rapt attention, a break in the ordinary elements of reality occurred. It was as if an earthquake began in the center of the young boy’s brain, opening up a portal of extraordinary proportions. This was transmitted outwards as a rupture in the chapel.
It didn’t occur with any conscious, pro-active effort. One moment the young boy was within his personal, exotic inscape and the next it was projecting out from his mind and into the folds of the world around him. The shapes of things shifted in a kaleidoscopic rotation like fireworks going off that were affixed to frames.
The evening twilight warped with an air of condensation and a starless black night opened above the congregation. The church in the sunny, somnambulistic suburbs of L.A had amazingly transposed and the audience was in the amphitheater of the Hollywood Bowl off Highland Avenue. There were now members of all races at a concert and the young boy was suddenly Kanye West, up on the stage. Instead of tweeds he was now wearing ray bans and a backpack, a gold knitted sweater over a white pinstriped button down. Blue jeans and fresh white kicks. Adidas of course. And he was screaming out, “Then I hope this take away from my sins/ and bring the day that I’m dreaming about/ next time I’m in the club everybody screamin’ out JESUS WALKS.” He sang a few of the early hits but stuck mostly to his own personal favorite, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He reluctantly skipped “The Blame Game,” as this was unfortunately in reality still a church service. At the end of his set Kanye West said, “Ya see, it aint gotta be just some white folks all together worshipping God,” and dropped the mike to reverberating applause.
Richard began spending all his time at the elementary school on the Internet. He would Google random phrases that would extraordinarily just pop into his head. He knew he was looking for something specific. That’s why he was using Google. But his thoughts and the phrases that came to his mind at first were vague.
He was in a quest for information that would somehow explain his new state of existence. His parents looked at him funny now. He felt queer. A lightness had settled over his being. He began to glide though the ordinary tasks of life in a dreamy haze. The things he did, it didn’t feel to him that he was actually doing them. His sensations had not been dulled or stripped from him, but it appeared that things were not happening to him at all, that he was somehow outside of his own body and watching with only a slight, dream-like interest.
Instead of sleeping at night, of letting his mind lie inert through the dark hours, projecting and creating nothing outside of his inscape, he began sneaking out of his bedroom window and making excursions through Wilshire Boulevard. To Hollywood and Vine. He wanted an audience. Richard wanted a response to the rôles and stages he had been creating up until now only for himself. It was lonely within the vast expanses of his magical inscape. His thoughts were so loud that they threatened to burst his eardrums. The deafening, confusing noise came from within, and the only way to escape it was to perform.
Los Angeles during the day was pure shit. Shit through and through, thought Richard. But at night the city was transformed. It was absolutely golden. The palm trees were enchanting. There were thousands and thousands of them and the thick fronds of the Canary Island date palms of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills gave way to city streets lined with the towering Mexican fan palms at precise 100 foot intervals on either side, giving one the impression of a guarded entrance towards something secret and impossibly beautiful.
The lights of the buildings gave off the quality of real illumination and were like the stars in the night, where the city itself had somehow formed its own private galaxy. The dreadful intense traffic of the day was dispelled, and it was gorgeous to see the cars zoom past in quick intermittence along L.A.’s gigantic freeway infrastructures. Like watching the sleek, pretty cars in a Formula One race.
The Library tower stood out among the flat-roofed L.A buildings as a lighthouse beacon would at sea. It was queen of the city and the iridescent blue gleam of its glass crown top brought a feeling of intense hope to the young boy’s heart.
Richard took the MTA from Brentwood down along Wilshire Boulevard. To the other passengers he appeared as a striking thirtyish black woman in a pinstripe suit. Elegant, straight black hair, carrying a briefcase that she lived out of, and a Bodega purse.
From the Jewish temple on Wilshire she got off the metro and hailed a cab, giving directions to take her/Richard to Hollywood and Vine. He wasn’t entirely sure of himself, and it was as if someone or something had taken over his will and his conscious processes had hit upon an automatic drive.
Richard got out of the cab and took in the scene with a questioning purpose. The sounds of the Los Angeles night intrigued the young boy and had to him and almost musical resonance. The sounds of the cars whooshing by, spraying wind through the still air, the electrical hissing of neon lights, the carefree chatter of voices from drug dealers, prostitutes, and other flaky derelicts.
A couple stood on the corner, taking hits from something in a clear glass pipe. Richard approached them with a feeling of something reoccurring. It was a white man in his early thirties, wearing a plain black tee shirt, skinny pants and some vans. He had a pixie haircut that was swooped over to one side coming just across his left eye.
The woman was still a girl. Maybe eighteen, maybe twenty. She had beautiful honey-colored skin and her eyes were a dark brown that reminded Richard of autumn back down south. She was wearing a yellow day-glo tank top. Jeans that were ripped and black stilettos. They seemed to be perfectly content but Richard could tell that they brooded over twisted, terrible thoughts within their hearts.
The couple saw the young boy walking up to them and eyed him strangely. Los Angeles was a bizarre city, where strange occurrences happened on the regular, but a kid on the corner of Hollywood and Vine at midnight was not one of them. The man let out a short, condescending snort and said to Richard.
“Are you lost young man.”
Richard looked up at the man, at his self-assured face and replied prophetically,
“No, sir, I believe it is you who is lost.”
And the city began to swirl in a dizzy spell about the three individuals. Like going through the loops on a high speed roller-coaster standing up.
Jess Mize is also a terrific poet. Purchase her new chapbook here.
(Photo of Library Tower c/o http://khurramhashmi.org.)