My Third to Last Night in LA

My Third to Last Night in LA

by Mark Driver

Many of the problems and much of the stress in your life can be easily attributed to your own bad habits. Quit blaming everything else and admit it.You’re a lazy slob who keeps a nasty apartment, so when your kitchen sink somehow develops a cement hard clog, you never really find the time to clean up enough so that your landlord won’t kick you out on the spot when he walks in to fix it. And thus you never get it fixed and eventually contract malaria from the mosquitoes breeding in your sink. Or maybe you’re a procrastinator who waits until the last second to get your car registered, and when you get to the DMV (or DOL or whatever they call it in your shitty little town), you find out you don’t have form 11-G that they sent you two years ago and there’s a three week minimum to get you another one, which means you end up driving an illegal car around for three weeks, have to pay a late charge, and complain to all your co-workers about how fucked the System is. Or maybe you’re a filthy human that can’t seem to wash, and you smell like a sack of rotten potatos in an Irishman’s underwear. Your love life stinks too, I’ll bet. While any of the above bad habits can be attributed to me for sure, what really gets me is my stubbornness, and the thriftiness that most of my aquaintences have maliciously named cheapness. And the fact that I like to drink a lot doesn’t help me out too often either.

I was drunk, throwing random shit into boxes and taping them shut when I got the call. “Hey Mark, do you want to go to a show at the Troubadour?” It was three nights before my retreat from 100 plus degree Los Angeles into the lush undergrowth of the Pacific Northwest.

I said no without even asking who was on the other end of the phone, because in Los Angeles, the Troubadour (along with the Viper Room and the Palladium) is a club I won’t set foot in unless my favorite band is playing, and I’m on the list plus 10 with an entire roll of drink tickets, which happens about as often as I buy a punk record made after 1990 (read: it happened once). If you’re not familiar with the Troubador, there’s definitely a club like it in your town. You know the one (or the strip of them). At least a $7 cover, even for lousy local bands, $10 parking, $5 beers, $8.50 mixed drinks, unsmiling swollen monkeys guarding the doors, facially pierced (that’s soooo ’96) waitresses shoving their way through the seething masses trying to find the jackass who wanted the twenty dollar shot of Johnny Walker Red. The club crowd – cackling blurs of leather pants, white t-shirts, cologne overdoses and black vests (If you see someone wearing a vest, and they aren’t bagging your groceries, 9 times out of 10 they are complete assholes – guaranteed). Flocks of hairsprayed, marble eyed hags clad in the official girl going out uniform of solid black, simultaneously inviting and punishing any attention thrown their way (Oh my God, I can’t believe that guy bought us all drinks – what a creep!). Maybe it’s the mere fact that the overpriced undercool environment doesn’t bother any of them that sickens me. Maybe it’s the contemplation of the human being that would actually find this environment a positive and fun experience. Either way, my answer was no.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go? I think I’m on the list +1.”

“How much will it cost when we drive all the way there, pay for parking, and you find out you aren’t?”

“Seven bucks. I’m pretty sure I’m on the list though. I’ll buy you a beer too.” The magic line that always seems to get me in trouble.

I looked around the apartment – a cluttered minefield of half packed boxes, posters torn off the walls but not detaped or rolled up, cleaning products that had stayed under the sink for the two and a half years I called that shitbox home, now overturned or stacked on rolls of unopened paper towels and trashbags. If I stayed, the evening would probably consist of killing a cheap jug of white wine and packing everything wrong (at least according to my girlthing Krustie, who seemed to have metamorphed into some sort of moving master, coming home from her night shift job, obsessively unpacking all progress made the previous evening, and falling asleep soon after) until I collapsed on a bare spot on the carpet, laying there listening to the same side of a Venom record on repeat until I fell asleep. I considered my odds.

Best case scenario – I get out of the apartment, get to go make fun of a shitty band, remind myself why LA sucks and get some more packing motivation, get some free beer, and save that jug of wine for the next day when I’ll really need it.

Worse case scenario – I have to shell out seven bones to see a lousy band that just depresses me, I drink one overpriced Rolling Rock, slowly sipping it, until it runs out, and then yawn until my friend gets bored and drives me home, which I can complain to him about later – ‘C’mon’ man, remember that time you drug me to that god awful show and you weren’t even on the list?!’ A nifty future negotiation piece, cheap at only $7!

Even my worst case scenario beat figuring out which box to pack my glow-in-the-dark religious icons (whoa – Baby Jesus is glowing his ass off!), so I agreed to go – not realizing that my worse case scenario wouldn’t even make it on the radar this night. Not realizing that my habitual anti-social tendencies would all converge to bite me on the ass, leaving me bobbing in a dark sea of my own blood like the losing side of a vacation town shark attack.

He picked me up outside the battered blue gate of my apartment complex. “Let’s stop at the liquor store, I’m not paying $5 for a beer.”

“OK.”

“You mind if I drink in your car?

“I guess not.”

We pulled into Eddy Jr.’s, our beloved Pico neighborhood liquor store that usually makes you earn your beer in sweat alone. Depending on the time of day (or night), the homeboys are nine or ten thick and congregated in the parking lot, yelling shit at passing cars and eyeing anyone they don’t know like they were a carne asada burrito garnished with $50 bills. The classic argument of ‘waiting in the car’ vs. ‘going in’ reaches new heights at Eddy’s, bearing a surprisingly similar resemblance to arguing the benefits of herpes over those of genital warts. And I don’t say this lightly, those 17ish year olds with the shaved heads and the long socks have chased me all over the neighborhood on four different occasions. Once because I had the audacity to wear a ‘VENICE’ hat in Santa Monica. Once because I didn’t feel like giving them my bike. Once because I walked through what they considered ‘their’ park. They couldn’t quite follow that due to the fact I work and pay taxes while they just sit around all day drinking beers and shouting gang slogans at squirrels (there are a few that didn’t follow all the white folks into Orange County), theoretically, the park was more mine than it was theirs. I had to run really fast that time. And the last time I had to run for my life, I was chased because, according to them, I was a fag. Not too compelling of a point, but you can’t really argue with switchblades, hand guns, and bad mustaches. Not that I can be that hard on them, because if I was 16, poor as dirt, and bored out of my mind, you can bet I would chase your ass through a park, and you bet I would harass the hell out of a big dumb guy with pigeon nest hair coming into my liquor store.

Whether completely intimidated by my imposing male frame (the story I’ll stick to), or merely too lazy to beat me up, I got in and out without much more than a few meanspirited comments about the current sexual nature of my mother, bringing two 22 oz. bottles of yummy beer with me, one fancy shmancy brand and one Colt Ice. As I got back in the car, my ride, a few sheets paler than when I left, seemed to have changed his mind about me drinking in his car.

“You know what, why don’t you just slam those when we get there.”

“OK, man. Your car, your rules.” I could respect that. After all, I don’t let people smoke those nasty cigarette things in my car.

After a uneventful drive down Santa Monica Boulevard, we got to the club. As luck would have it, someone was pulling out right across the street from the place, simultaneously giving us a boss parking space and killing any hopes I had of drinking in the car.

“Oh well, I guess I just have to smuggle them in.”

“Are you serious? Those are big bottles!”

“I can do it.” Stubbornness introduced herself to cheapness, and we all got out of the car together. With two 22 oz bottles of still cold beer in the waistline of my trusty shorts and a new hunched back, I waddled up to the ticket window to watch my friend not be on the list. I had my wallet out before he could even turn around.

“One please.”

The doorman tore my ticket, thankfully failing to search me, and I made my way to the bathroom where I could drink in peace.

Now would be a good time to describe my attire, not to give you all a glimpse into my high Hollywood style, but because, unlike most things I’ve been telling you, it actually applies to the story, except my shirt. My shirt is unimportant. For visualization purposes, I will just tell you that it was an oversized garment of the T style, probably with some obscure band or brand of Midwestern beer on it. My shorts – (now this is the good part), I own one pair of shorts, and I wear them every day. I got them free like two years ago in San Diego from Todd Swank, who owns Foundation Skate Company (plug plug). He let me loose in the warehouse to fill a backpack with whatever junk I wanted. Well, I wish I would’ve grabbed more pairs of shorts, because two years later, this pair was in a sorry state of affairs. The two front pockets are torn out (something that takes me about two hours to get used to every time I put them on, my keys constantly hitting the ground with an embarrassing metallic thud), the right back pocket has holes from carrying a wallet, four of the beltloops are torn out, and the leg ends are frayed, giving me that Farrah Fawcett 70’s sheik appeal. Why don’t I buy a new pair? Good question, one asked daily by a girlfriend who has a bald spot from constantly scratching her head about me. At least the button and the zipper still worked (the one on my shorts, my girlfriend doesn’t have a zipper). My callused, streetpeople feet sported a pair of well worn flip flops – versatile, comfortable, and excruciatingly annoying to the prigs who hoped to be out among the beautiful people.

So here I was, just waiting for all my annoying bad habits come together. Cheapness – Old shorts and smuggled beer. Stubbornness – the refusal to buy overpriced beer at a dumb club, or even leave one of the bottles in the car. And possibly my worst habit: An Inability to Identify the Absurd Until It Is Too Late – somehow believing I was going to get away with sneaking 44 ounces of beer into a Hollywood club and chug it all in a bathroom stall without attracting attention. Add in the fact I was already slightly drunk and bam – instant catastrophe.

I made my way into the black painted stall before it happened. I shut the door and stared at the toilet, plotting my next move, when the button on my shorts gave out, and both oversized bottles of beer fell onto the cement floor of the stall. The bottle of Colt shattered on impact with the sound of an underwater cannon, covering both flip-flopped feet with broken glass and malt liquor, a combination more suited to a garbage filled alleyway than human feet. Gravity introduced my newly buttonless shorts to my ankles, soaking them in beer, and probably filling them with more than a few pieces of sharp, testicle piercing glass. The metal button of my shorts, propelled forward by falling beer, popped into -you guessed it – the toilet, which three hundred previous urinators had failed to flush. Adding to the pleasure of the situation was a piece of glass wedged between flop and foot, causing my left foot to ooze warm red blood onto the filthy restroom floor. Not phased, I picked up the bottle that hadn’t broken, and decided to have a drink while I figured out how to deal with the situation. My efforts to open the bottle, however, were less than successful, as it wasn’t -gasp- a screw top. I would need an opener.

Still unfazed, I positioned the bottle cap on the corner of the stall’s wooden door. I’d opened beers on many a strange surface, although I had never mastered the tooth technique shown to me by a bunch of kids from Encinitas, Mexico. My teeth are in bad enough shape without being ground against ridged metal, and would have probably fallen out of my mouth into the toilet with my button if I would have tried.

I gave the top of the bottle a good whack, hoping to separate the cap from the glass, succeeding instead, in separating flesh from my hand. Feeling a bit left out, my hand began bleeding now as well, adding yet another festive layer to the situation. Not deterred, I gave the bottle another whack, this time taking out a chunk of the bathroom stall door, part of which found a home in my already bleeding paw. Stubbornness kicked in, this time freeing the cap, and opening a new world of beer to me. I chugged the entire bottle, the last swallow or so fighting burps coming up on the beer’s way down. I felt a wave of nausea come over me, and made the brave decision to vomit directly upward if push came to shove in my stomach, completing the picture of a filth soaked bastard, save a possible pants shitting that could be easily arranged as well.

So what does someone with no pants, soaked in beer, bleeding from two limbs, increasingly becoming more and more blindingly drunk do in this situation? Laugh his ass off, that’s what. What the hell else am I going to do? I reached down and pulled my shorts up to assess the damage. I tried to zip them to the top and hope that would hold, but nothing doing, they fell back into the bloody beer soup on the floor. I pulled them back up and examined what was left of the button. It was of the rivet style, and the back end was still there, so theoretically, I could retrieve my button from the toilet and pop it back on. I say theoretically because I was not sure that I could bring myself to submerge the open wounds on my hand in the urine of a million strangers from West Hollywood, not that I’d submerge my hand in anyone’s urine besides my own and possibly my cat’s. I tried to fish it out with the empty beer bottle, doing little more than stirring some foam to the surface. Finally, as a last desperate measure, I flushed the toilet, hoping that the weight of my button would keep it in that little cup, and not go down the pipe with the piss. I was wrong, I was drunk, I was bleeding, and my pants fell down again. Finally, I pulled my shorts back up, yanked a strong looking frayed, beer soaked thread from the bottom of my shorts, and tied my shorts back on, threading through the buttonhole and the new hole caused by the liberation of my button.

I stumbled back out of the stall and spun around to the exit to find myself toe to toe with a security guard.

“What the fuck just happened in there?”

I had to think quick. “Uh, someone left a bottle up on the stall door and it shattered all over the floor. It cut the fuck out of me. You’re lucky I’m not suing.”

The guard gave me a stern, but vacuous look. I held up my bloody hand as some sort of collaboration my story and limped back into the club, searching for my friend. I found him boredly sipping a beer to the less than inspirational electronic folk rock band on stage.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, Mark. This sucks. You want to go to the Viper Room? I know I’m on the list there.”

“Man, fuck the Viper Room.”

“C’mon, you’re moving to Seattle. You’ll never have to go again. I’ll even buy you two beers.”

I considered the offer. “You have a roll of paper towels in your car?”

“Maybe.”

“OK,” I said, “let’s go.”