doing the time warp again: going back to "grounds zero"
i lost myself completely in the re-reading of the journal i kept around this time eight years ago. it's a silver sparkly lined journal; the pages are crammed with my girlish handwriting in many colors, stickers, notes, drawings, poems, things i wanted to tape inside and save for ever and ever. i found myself transported back to a time when i lived in the sweetest studio apartment at the foot of the hollywood hills, in a building that used to be a hotel in the 1920's. it was my first quarter ever enrolled in university, and i was actually a theatre major--somewhat irritated that that meant i had to take a class in stagecraft, which meant i had to draft things and know about bolts and sets and things. i had a part-time job at a book store, and i spent all my free time (which i apparently had ample of, considering i ditched a lot of school) perched on a stool at the counter of a local coffee house.
grounds zero, as it was called, was a tiny little bohemian coffeehouse that was on an odd stretch of space on sunset boulevard. this was before there was a starbucks on every corner, and when going for coffee was more desireable than even maybe going for drinks, but then, i could have been biased. laurie
had stumbled on the place one night when she was supposed to be knocking on doors raising money for greenpeace, which was a job we both held. she took me back there with her, and when she eventually moved back east, i moved in to grounds zero. i may as well have gotten my mail and phone calls there, because i lived
there. i've even slept there...
the clientele was your typical urban artsy gen-x melee, though some of the more aesthetically rough-and-tumble types were actually members of narcotics anonymous, and only looked as though they partied hard. it was the kind of cafe that hosted a fledgling open mic night, had the occasional musical act, and the artwork on the walls was done by the token local eccentric. it was dim, it was cozy, and everyone knew my name. i was there morning, noon and night. i almost never paid for a single iced mocha, cup of joe, sandwich, cookie or what have you that i ordered. i would get asked to run errands like go to the bank or the market, or to make drinks while the employee on duty played a game of pool. i stayed late to do the dishes. i knew everyone who hung out there like me, inside and out, and same went double for the staff. there was plenty of scandal, intrigue, adventure, flirtation, excitement and romance in the air at any time. and i was in love with about a half dozen people who either worked or hung out there.
this was a most curious time in my life; i was eighteen years old, living on my own, balancing work and school. i'd just had my heart broken by someone whom i'd allowed to be my first intimate. i wrote long, wordy passages about my rapidly beating heart, my desires, my deep despair, my anguish, my early adulthood torment and delight. i had an intense crush on a fellow named james, who worked there, and i'm sure he knew it, everyone knew it, and it tortured me--i was in sheer agony over the fact that we were just pals. if he wasn't in my good graces i turned my affections to any number of other people--some guy named rob who played pool there, and two other employees, evan and m. i'd sit, ever impatient, on my stool at the copper-covered counter, sipping endless sugary drinks, reading novel upon novel, penning furiously in my silver journal, smoking marlboro reds that i pulled out of my little pink tin box that served as my purse. i wonder now what made me so appealing to so many men--my diary was full of "so and so made a move on me"--and i didn't want a single one of them--if only i had people making advances on me nowadays! i was fighting them off with sticks, completely naive of how men and women interacted, and amazed that they took an interest in me. so meanwhile i was lusting with unrequied love for men who didn't show a single bit of interest. then, just like now, all i ever want are the ones who don't want me back.
until one october night.
james wasn't giving me the time of day, so i had turned my attention to someone else: m. he lived with his girlfriend. he was much older, maybe six or seven years. he was a poet. how utterly romantic, wouldn't you say? it was a friday night, and i'd remained behind to help him tidy up. he counted out the register, showed the bug srpay man where to spray, and i happily went in back to do the dishes.
suddenly he was right next to me.
"i'm on to you," he told me. "i've been wanting to take all those hooks you've been hanging out for me, only i don't know how you'd take it. but i know you're flirting with me, all the time. and i think you're cute. and i can totally see us, naked, going at it on that couch there."
i was stunned. i was busted. but, thrill of thrills, he liked me back!
"how about i give you a foot massage?" he offered, when the dishes were done.
i said yes, and so i stretched out next to him on the couch. he took my foot, and rubbed it, and then slowly worked his way up my bare leg. and then we kissed.
"do you have a condom?" he asked me.
of course i did. i retrieved one from--where else?--my little pink tin, and there we were, naked, going at it on the couch. it was naughty, it was impetuous, it was making a cheater out of him.
i was in heaven.
we hooked up every friday for the next month right there in the cafe--in the backroom, on the couch, and even on the pool table. one night my car was locked in to the back parking lot, and we slept there. his girlfriend showed up in the morning, worried because he hadn't come home. she seemed almost relieved to see me there, because she and i were friendly. she'd go shopping and show me what she bought, or we'd talk about life and smoke cigarettes together. i don't know if she ever had any idea i was sleeping with her live-in boyfriend.
he was moody, to say the least, and that made me more neurotic. any thing he said or did would send me into a tailspin, either high or low, but dramatic no matter what. he was unhappy at home. he was not being productive, creatively. he didn't like his job. he said once that he was as able to commit to me as "a dog with fleas", whatever that meant. he'd say he would call so we could go out, and he wouldn't. time after time i'd be waiting to hear from him, a whole day wasted for me. then he'd show up at the drop of a hat: "i was in the neighborhood, and thought i'd stop by" or "can i come over to practice giving a full body massage?" i was head over heels in love with this tempremental man--he would read poetry to me in restaurants, rub my neck gently as we drove around, lie with me on the park grass. to him, i'm sure, i was this oddball young thing who complicated his life, but who would drop her drawers at the merest suggestion. "it's funny," he said one day, "the sex monster doesn't bite me when i'm just talking to you. but when i touch you..."
it came to an end in the spring. he'd left his girlfriend and moved into some group housing situation, and when i finally got him on the phone after several attempts, he said, "hey, me and my housemates are making homemade beer right now. i'll call you tomorrow, okay?"
he never called.
today, after i read all these episodes in my diary, i grabbed my books and went in to hollywood to see what had become of the old place. it's changed owners a few times, and motifs, though the talk in the room today showed me that it still was a spot for urban hipsters, hollywood wannabees, and "friends of bill". i got a coffee and sat down, and like a good little scholar i did my reading for school. there's different paint on the walls, the couch and pool table are long gone, even the copper counter top is gone, too. but my ghost is in there, the ghost of a kid who lived and breathed with such intensity within those walls. i told the guy at the counter that i used to hang out there, years ago, but i hadn't been back for ages.
"did you move out of town?" he asked.
"no," i said laughing. "i guess i grew up."
[...] i wonder if he knew just how much i cared for him. i used to always wonder if he really factored me in to his life. if i became an issue with him and his girlfriend, if he even considered being the boyfriend that i'd hoped he would be for me. i suppose i might never know. and i suppose you can't ever go back. not really.