The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 3

Today brings us to the third part of the closing novella, which takes place at the wedding of the daughter of the mayor of Los Angeles and brings all of the main characters together at one event.  You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here. Last week, we saw the wedding ceremony and the plans for the post-wedding receptions, public and private. Now, we catch up with our main characters as they celebrate.

TAKING HOPE

Toby’s reason for getting to the wedding and bringing Adrian along had a single purpose. His attempts to rebuild Edna’s property had hit a brick wall, and it was called Wendy Rue, the City Council representative for the 10th District, although Toby thought of her more as the big developer’s rep for herself. Less than two weeks after the quake, she was making pronouncements about rebuilding her district, but she was so far in the back pockets of the developers that what this really meant was eminent-domaining the shit out of any red-tagged property slated for demolition, and then tossing out the building permits for luxury condos like they were, well, birdseed at a wedding.

She had set her sights on Edna’s property early on, with dreams of putting up a fifty story mixed-use commercial property and luxury hotel, and Toby had sicced his lawyers on her almost immediately. Luckily, he didn’t live in the 10th. He lived and did business in the 13th, and that council member, Jay Beeber, hated the gentrification of the city with a passion. Toby knew him personally — he was a major campaign donor — and Jay was trying to talk sense into Wendy on Toby’s behalf, but she was having none of it.

At least Toby had managed to get an injunction against the imminent domain attempt back in July, but it was only for 90 days, so there wasn’t a lot of time left.

So his quest at the wedding was to get some face time with Alejandra, explain what was going on, and asking her to intercede. Fortunately, because of the various scandals back in ‘23 that had seen half of the Council Members recalled and half of the rest lose their re-elections, the replacements had actually passed laws giving the Mayor a lot more power over them, akin to what governors and the president had in terms of veto power, something that had long been lacking. This also included a very California innovation, borrowed from San Francisco, and it was called the Right of Absolute Intervention or, as the public had dubbed it, giving the mayor teeth.

In short, any government contract that a single council member or the entire council chose to enter into could be voided, without penalty, by the mayor, and without appeal short of a two-thirds majority referendum vote by either the district in question or the city at large, whichever applied.

And that was what Toby was banking on, since he knew Alejandra’s leanings, and once he’d gotten the chance to explain to her that he was determined to create what would truly be low income housing for people in need, he had no doubt that she would bare her teeth and bite Wendy Rue off at the knees.

He just needed to actually get that time with her and, honestly, the only person busier than the happy couple at a wedding were the mothers of both of them. That was why he brought Adrian. The kid was amazing and brilliant, and if Toby couldn’t get to her, Adrian would.

Alice and Edna couldn’t have been happier when they walked the green carpet and entered the cathedral, which was awe-inspiring inside. They were even more blown away when they were shown their seats, to the left of the altar and in the front row. Then again, this was well after their wedding outfits and shoes had been delivered to them, “Courtesy of the Bride and Groom,” although those weren’t quite a surprise, since a nice young man named Finley had come out to measure them.

They hadn’t known each other before now, but when they’d been introduced in line by the kid named Adrian they’d both met, they formed an immediate connection. After all, they were property owners on the 3400 block of West 8th Street in Koreatown, Adrian and Toby were trying to help out both of them, and while only Edna had been directly threatened by that City Council woman whose name she refused to remember, Alice had known of and hated her for years, because she did not understand the value of the arts, and had constantly lobbied Alice with ineffective bribes to try to get her to move out in order to raze the building and put up a boutique hotel on top of a bunch of upscale shops.

When that woman had visited her in person to try to push her agenda, it was the one and only time in her life that Alice said the words, “Fuck you” to another person. This managed to make the City Councilor stalk off in high dudgeon, as well as get a round of applause from her students, who had been standing behind her at the time. That applause was the only thing that made her not feel utterly ashamed for having been so rude to a government official. In fact, it made her feel more American than she ever had in her life.

And, at this wedding, Alice and Edna feel young and important, and look beautiful, and could not believe where they were sitting and, more importantly, which famous people they spotted as the room filled up. They kept quietly whispering to each other.

Edna: “Oh my god, is that Brad Pitt? He’s still hot as hell and he’s what? Sixty-five?”

Alice: “Yeah, but damn. Tarantino just looks… old.”

Edna: “I didn’t even know that Angelyne was still alive.” Of course, she was seated way in the back.

Alice: “Please tell me that Justin Bieber is crashing this and they’re going to kick him… Oh. Great. No.”

Edna: “All right, that’s it. Betty White is a vampire or something. How old is she now?”

Alice: “She looks amazing. I think she’s like… 107 or something?”

Edna: “Wow. I should only look so good in 25 years.”

Alice: “That’d be 2054. Wow. And I’d only be 98.”

Edna: “You know, with science nowadays — ”

Alice: “Yeah, but only if I get to look like I’m thirty.”

Edna turns to her and they fist bump.

At that same moment, James was quietly trying to figure out whether he could casually finger-bang Finley behind Tycho’s back without anyone noticing it, but Tycho noticed, grabbed James’ arm, and moved it back to his right side.

“We are at work, dude. We do not fuck at work. Got it?”

“Not even a little?” James pleaded, giving his best puppy-dog eyes.

“Not even at all, you horny whore-bag. But if you manage to keep it in your pants until we get home, I promise that Fin and I are going to DP you until your face explodes. And if you’re really well behaved, we might even invite Adam and Tony along to see how many dicks we can get up your ass at once.”

“Behaving!” James replied, and then he shut up and kept his hands to himself.

The whole complicated sex thing between Tycho, Finley, James, Adam, and Tony had finally settled into a pattern once Tycho actually moved into his government condo, but that had taken a bit longer than until the middle of May, mainly because there were two groups that hadn’t gotten moved into new permanent headquarters, and it was all due to a single city council member who Tycho had taken to referring to (privately to Finley and James) as “that Goddamn Shit-cunt Wendy.”

She was trying to take over their properties when both orgs had sufficient endowments to rebuild. He had had to work through the County Board of Supervisors to get the Mayor of L.A. to basically tell Wendy to fuck off, which she immediately did as soon as she got the scoop — it did help that one group was a Catholic org, and the RAI order was fired off so fast and hard that, Tycho hoped, it singed away half of Wendy’s Karen haircut.

He had managed to fast-track it, so that by June 1st the properties were secured, plans were being submitted for approval and permitting, and temporary quarters were placed on the sites, ending his need to stay down there. Although he’d found it laughable that this was even a requirement at all, because of how it worked out.

In theory, everyone should have been lodged as close to their area as could be, in this case Koreatown. In practice, that wasn’t possible. But the great irony was that Tycho’s condo downtown was actually closer, and on the same B Line that brought him down from the Valley in the opposite direction.

The only upside was that hotel sex was totally awesome, and their whirlpool tubs and showerheads could do amazing things in the right hand and aimed at or up the right parts. Otherwise, though, it was absolutely stupid, but he wasn’t going to waste his breath complaining about that to any of his superiors, because it would never change.

He guessed that at least a couple of the members of the Board of Supervisors owned stock in the various hotels people were being lodged at, so had a vested interest in keeping business booming at taxpayer expense. Yeah, one thing he’d really learned on the job was that the Supervisors’ level of corruption made the shit that had finally destroyed and rebuilt the City Council look as trivial as a fourth-grader charging other kids a dollar to copy from their homework.

It had been going on for a lot longer, and nobody ever did anything about it. It almost made him angry enough to want to run for the Board and change things from inside, but he knew that this wasn’t possible and feared that he’d become just as corrupt.

The City Council has fifteen members and the County Board of Supervisors has five. At the wedding, as Tycho scans the crowd, he spots all five of the Supes, but only fourteen of the Council, and secretly does a little internal dance of joy when it’s still only fourteen right before show time.

He leans over to Finley and whispers, “Shit-Cunt’s not here.”

“You think she was invited?” he asks.

“Inevitably,” Tycho explains. “The invitations went out months ago, and all the council and department managers and other top levels would have gotten one. It’s protocol.”

“So she decided not to show up?” Finley wonders.

“Most likely,” Tycho replies. “She’s known for being petty and vindictive.”

Adam leans over to whisper to the two of them. “Cindy told me that she’s trying to take over her old landlady’s property and turn it into more luxury condos for rich people.”

“What does the landlady think of that?” Finley asks.

“Of course she hates the idea, but Rue’s been going around doing eminent domain.”

“What a bitch,” Tony adds.

“I am definitely going to chat up the Supes today to see what they can do to cut that shit-cunt off at the knees,” Tycho tells them all as the lights change and a sudden plaintive flute starts up at the back of the nave. It’s followed by drums and then, to their total shock, a bunch of accordions playing a polka kick in from the other side of the house.

The rest of it is the most awesome thing any of them have even seen in a church.

Image: US Bank Tower, Downtown Los Angeles, © 2018 Jon Bastian. All rights reserved.

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 2

This week continues the closing novella, told in third-person, in which everyone comes together. Since a lot of us are still locked up, I think I’m going to share a bit more of this one in a few installments, since this part is 20,000 words or so. You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here. Last week, we set up the Southern California social event of 2029, the wedding of the mayor’s daughter at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Downtown L.A. Now, the wedding is about to begin.

TAKING HOPE

It all began with the procession, because there was no “Here Comes the Bride” or opening hymn. Instead, a lone flute played a mournful tune, and then there were drums at the back of the house — yes, Alejandra thought of it in those terms, because she at least fully understood how the Church created western theater out of older Roman and Greek traditions, and how Mass and a play both were rituals, and she was going to take full advantage of it. The drums were pure Aztec and they played a few bars from house left before the first mind bend happened, and accordion music started up on house right.

Yep. Native American ritual drumming combined with a goddamn polka and, as they had discovered in rehearsal, the two went together so well it was ridiculous. Right as the audience was looking around in confusion, the entertainment entered from both sides. Down the outside left aisle came the Aztec dancers in full native regalia — feathers and fringe and fierceness. Down the right side, came the Bavarians, in lederhosen and dirndls. The two sides could not have been more different, but the two together could not have been more L.A.

To be honest, even Alejandra started sniffling at this point. It was just so sublime and incredible, unexpected and yet absolutely appropriate. As one reporter would describe it later, “This American wedding of the century could not have been a better representation not only of how Los Angeles has put itself back together a mere five or so months after a major disaster, but of how the country has done the same in almost a decade since we came to the edge of another Civil War, but averted it when unity finally prevailed.”

As all of the other performers gathered together and knelt in front of the bema, four of them mounted it — two men doing the Schuhplattler, which is that famous Bavarian dance that involves slapping the knees and thighs, jumping in the air, slapping the knees and thighs again, and then slapping each other. A young woman in traditional dress with sleeves and leggings decorated in red feathers took her place above them. Her face was covered in white make-up embedded with shimmering glitter in red and green that caught and reflected the light. From somewhere, the smell of incense began to fill the room, a mixture of sage and pine. The young woman watched them, arms lowered. Meanwhile, another woman came to stand above all of them, dressed as the Aztec Xochiquetzal, the goddess of beauty, love, fertility, flowers, and vegetation, and the patron of arts, weaving, and prostitution.

The woman portraying the part is young and beautiful — she was actually Miss Hispanic California 2028 — and the lyrics of the old song La Bikina described her perfectly: “Altanera, preciosa y orgullosa…” Well, the way she played the character, at least. She held a bouquet of flowers in one hand (Jackson had convinced Alejandra to use green carnations, even though they were not indigenous) and had a headdress made of bird’s feathers. In legend, those of Quetzalcoatl, the flying feathered serpent, but since those didn’t exist, Jackson had made a deal with Fumiko to contract another vendor in the garment district to obtain seagull feathers and dye them in shades of cyan, teal, seafoam, forest, and Kelly green. Although slightly harder to get, they were the better choice, because crow feathers — also the more indigenous choice — would need to be bleached first, and that would just soften them and ruin the effect. He had considered peacock feathers, but to some people they represented bad luck. Besides, those wouldn’t read as Quetzalcoatl at all.

Finally, Miss Hispanic California, whose name was Kathy Ruiz, was decked out in a lots of gold jewelry, which was entirely authentic and loaned by a shop down on 7th that was next door to the 24-hour Walgreens.

It was a stunning tableau, made more amazing by the lighting by world renowned and award-winning designer Dan Weingarten, abetted by the crew from CTG, the jewel of the Music Center (and Culver City), not to mention the amazing tech set-up in the cathedral.

Yeah, only in L.A. would a Catholic sanctuary have lights and sound that would give a Broadway theater a run for its money.

But the performers hit their places, the lights did their thing, and the two white guys were downstage slapping each other silly as the two women hovered above them in contrasting colors, Xochiquetzal looking increasingly upset even as the woman with red feathers appeared more sad.

“Moketsa!” the goddess suddenly cries out, and the young woman raises her red-feathered arms high. “Aufstehen,” an offstage voice cries, and then the men stop slapping each other. They make eye contact with the most profound sense of forgiveness before they hug. The woman curves her arms around them without touching, then pulls away, turns abruptly and bows to Xochiquetzal, who gives a gesture of benediction. The woman nods, turns back, and moves in a ritualistic way. She circles the men twice to the left, twice to the right, then stops above them, raises her arms, and lets out a single shout. She raises her arms above her head, slowly lowers them to be by her sides, then sharply turns to her right, moves a few steps, turns to her left, then marches out. The men follow without ceremony, then Xochiquetzal raises her arms.

“Tlasojtlalistli. Paxia. Tlauelkaktli.”

There’s a dramatic light change, the music stops, and they all exit in the brief moment before the processional of the bridal party finally starts.

And no. It’s not “Here Comes the Bride.” That would be too obvious, and, besides, the bride and groom have taste and a sense of humor. They enter to Beyoncé’s Single Ladies, but, of course, it’s not recorded — the lady herself is performing live from the back of the ambulatory, the entire wedding party comes in doing the choreography, and the crowd goes crazier than Dodger fans after Stefanie Lopez hits another homer.

The best part about the choreography is that it takes the wedding party the whole length of the song to make it to the altar, and in their outfits, it just looks spectacular. Alejandra thinks, “Jackson outdid himself,” and makes a mental note to give him and his assistant an extra bonus because of this moment.

The priest and altar servers leading the way are also doing the choreography. There was the added bonus of Father O’Malley, a middle-aged man who’s gayer than Christmas, leading eight teenage boys and girls in cassocks down the aisle first and doing the same choreo. The cute young blond (but of-age one) up front is O’Malley’s partner, but everyone knows it, and Pascale and the  padre are rocking the hell out of it. So is everyone else.

After the bride and groom and wedding party, both families follow but, while Valentina and her soon-to-be husband Chris, along with the groomsfolk and bridal party and both fathers make it up onto the bema, the song runs out, so the extended family is left to change the dance and we get another olidie — Born This Way by Lady Gaga. Valentina was a fan of the oldies, after all.

The rest of the ceremony proceeded in a more traditional fashion, although typically for a Catholic service in L.A., the readings and sermons were an equal mix of Spanish and English. Father O’Malley himself had attended seminary in Mexico, and his first assignment was to a church in Puebla, which was really the only place in that country where Cinco de Mayo was a holiday, because that’s where the original events happened.

Once O’Malley had come back to L.A., the celebrations here made him feel like he was back in what he considered his second home, especially all around La Plaza, El Pueblo, and Olvera Street downtown, right across from Union Station and a stone’s throw… well, a Metro stop from the cathedral.

One of the unique things about Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular was that the city had never lost its Spanish heritage, and even more so had never lost its Mexican heritage. After all, this was part of the western third of what was now the United States that used to be Mexico before it was taken from them by the U.S. Sure, there had still been racist pockets of people here and there, but mostly in Orange County and until the end of the last century the west end of the Valley, but those people had all fled to the even more conservative and racist Simi Valley once everything north of Victory and west of Reseda became very Hispanic.

That was all before what Father O’Malley termed the American Troubles, thinking back to what his ancestors in Ireland had gone through about forty years earlier. But after the events that the press had dubbed Retribution and Reconciliation, the bigots and racists seemed to disappear from public life completely. Of course, a lot of them had simply died because of their own bad decisions, but that was all in the past now.

“Funny how the mind wanders when you’re doing something you’ve done a billion times,” he thought as he snapped out of his reverie having not missed a beat or a word of the Gospel (he had chosen John 15:12-16), and was very present as he delivered his homily, very cannily basing it on Mark 10:25: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” but rather than playing it as a straight condemnation of wealth — mustn’t piss off the guests too much — he steered it toward a description of the difficulties a marriage could face as two people suddenly tried to follow a single path.

“And especially,” he noted, “Dos personas de dos mundos diferentes, two people from completely different worlds.” This became a meditation on how embracing differences only made the world stronger, and the only way for two threads to make it through one needle was for them to wind themselves around each other. And in the real world, if you sewed that way, one thread around the other would create a thing of greater beauty, because both colors would show in a spiral and make the whole cloth much more interesting.

Jackson and Finley both looked at each other at this one and smiled, and Finley knew that Jackson was getting ideas — although it would be damn hard to pull off on a standard sewing machine, and hella expensive to do by hand.

“Dos hilos, una vida; dos mentes, un corazón; dos almas, un verdad,” he said. “Two threads, one life; two minds, one heart; two souls, one truth: Valentina and Chris unidos, united.”

Once the wedding part of it was over, the rest of the Mass still had to happen, and this was when a lot of the press took their lunch break. They hadn’t been invited to the pre-ceremony luncheon.

When it finally came time for the recessional, the song was I Won’t Let You Down by OK Go and yes, the actual band was performing that one live, too. Their costumes, also designed and created by Jackson on Alejandra’s commission, reimagined them as Edwardian gentlemen, but each one themed to the vibrant primary colors that they had been splattered in at the end of their video for This Too Shall Pass, released nearly twenty years earlier.

It was known as the “Rube Goldberg” video because of the elaborate jury-rigged machine that followed the tune and led the viewer through a warehouse of insane contraptions until that one moment when the band members were shot with paint cannons — Andy in yellow, Damian in blue, Tim in red, and Dan in green. Jackson put each of them in elegant morning dress all of similar cut, but each one made from fabrics in five different hues of the chosen color — swallow-tail cut-away coats the darkest; pinstriped pants slightly lighter with the stripes matching the coat; shoes slightly lighter again (in suede), laces matching the pants; cuff, collar, and tie lighter still; and shirt in the most pastel version of the color. Cufflinks and tie-tacks contained the appropriate gemstone — in order, citrine, sapphire, ruby, and emerald.

Almost as an afterthought, he gave the four-button coats surgeon’s cuffs with piping just above to match the pants, figuring that the band would unbutton them and that they would add just a touch of visual flair to their playing as their shirt sleeves flashed beneath. He had figured correctly.

While the wedding party didn’t ride out on Honda unicycles a la the video for I Won’t Let You Down, they did all twirl umbrellas. The bride, groom, best man, and maid of honor had white umbrellas with a red spiral winding from the center, while the rest of the wedding party had solid red umbrellas — yet another incidence of the costume planning colliding with the props to follow Alejandra’s hidden theme, which was also a direct reference to the band’s classic video for the song they were now playing. Alejandra and Jackson had both nixed the idea of having anyone do a quick-change into a Japanese school-girl outfit from that video, though. That would have been too much.

And then it was on to the reception, which was in Grand Park, and in two parts. South of Hill street, on the City Hall side, was the public celebration, everyone invited, and absolutely free — admission, food, beverages, games, dancing, entertainment, whatever. North of Hill up to Grand right below the Music Center was the private party, guest list only, and where Alejandra would be soaking the millionaires and billionaires throughout the course of events. Various bands had been scheduled to play on the landing at the top of City Hall’s steps from one in the afternoon onward — easily viewable by the people south of Hill, and particularly south of Broadway, but a bit farther away and occluded to the hoi polloi north of Hill, especially by the red and white party tents that had been set up to make the rich not have to look at the poor — in their minds — but which Alejandra had intended for the opposite reason: so that normal people didn’t have to look at the rich assholes who were literally above them topographically, but which she considered completely beneath them socially.

She had arranged for her special VIP guests to be told, “Come to the reception for the food, then duck out and go down the hill right after the cake to party with the real people. You’ll enjoy that one a lot more.” That schedule was a lot more interesting and diverse, and was publicized in all of the social media posts and posters like so:

11:00 a.m. — 12:00 p.m………………………………………………… Mick, Paul, Keith, and Ringo

Hot off of their Beat the Stones Farewell Tour, half of two famous bands that have become an even bigger legend together give a preview taste of their upcoming final U.S. gig at Amazon Dodger Stadium.

12:30 p.m. — 2:00 p.m…………………………………………….. Meghan Trainor featuring MIKA

“Daft by Design.” Join Meghan Trainor and MIKA as they team up to celebrate and lament love, loss, life, and lollipops.

2:30 p.m. — 4:00 p.m……………………………………………………………… Red Hot Chili Peppers

A special command performance in honor of the royal wedding on the palace steps from 2:30 thence to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the Twenty-Third of September Two Thousand and Twenty-Nine.

4:30 p.m. — 6:00 p.m…………………………………………………………………………………… OK Go

We’re playing the wedding, but wanted to share with our fans, so we asked and the mayor got the county to let us put on our own show for you all. It’ll be interactive with giveaways and all the usual OK Go fun. DL the App for the full AR experience. See you there!

6:30 p.m. — 8:00 p.m…………………………… Maná with Natalia Jiménez and Special Guests

¡Les invitamos! Domingo el 23 de septiembre, 2029. Ven a la fiesta y disfrútenla, pero por favor no nos falten las dieciocho y media hasta las veinte en el pórtico suroeste del palacio municipal en un concierto corto por todos.

8:30 p.m. — 10:00 p.m………………………………………………………………… OMG OG-a-y-cons

Darlings! Join the last of the red-hot Mamas as they show you they’ve still got it as these Divine Divas revisit their greatest hits. They may be the original generation gay icons, but they are still iconic to this day, and to everyone. Barbra. Bette. Cher. Combined, there’s over 254 years of talent on that stage.

10:30 p.m. — 12:00 a.m………………………………………….. Shakira with Maluma and Pit Bull

¡Ven y bailen con nosotros en un espectáculo muy especial! Nuestros anfitriones serán Argelia y Omar. Tendremos muchas sorpresas, camisetas, carteles, y otros grandes premios. Y presentaremos un estrella invitado/a tan famoso/a que no podemos mencionar el nombre.

12:30 a.m. — 2:00 a.m…………………………………………………………………………………… A-Pop

The world phenomenon boy band that has taken all of Asia by storm is now conquering the west. Treat your eyes and ears to their decadent music and looks as they show off for you in public!

2:00 a.m. — 4:00 a.m………………………………………………………………. DJGomes and VJBDJ

Electro Beats cultivating the House vibe with flavored Italo Disco Cuts on top as we scratch the old skool vinyl with the latest AR and spin hits from the last 75 years of American, Euro, Latin, and Asian pop, rock, dance, disco, EDM, and anything else you can think of. Come with your dancing shoes on and your mind wide open and expect anything to happen.

OMG OG-a-y-CONS had been a compromise. Alejandra had wanted to call it “Octetris,” since all three of them were in their 80s, but they had all rejected the idea — although not as vehemently as Barbra and Cher had rejected Bette’s suggestion of “Octopussies.” Instead, they came up with “OMG OG-a-y-cons.” It was awkward, but if you read it slowly, it scanned, and this turned out to be the most popular event of the evening, despite the stars being a good fifty or sixty years older than most of the audience.

After they wrapped up at midnight, it was a dance party with DJGomes and VJBDJ that went until four in the morning, although the rich people side of the reception would have wrapped and gone off in their limos at eleven p.m. The DJs had wanted to call their show “EDM-Night Shamalamadingdong,” but the county had rejected that idea as culturally insensitive, so they went with their names.

Everything happening on City Hall steps and the southern part of Grand Park had been arranged and paid for by the county as a wedding present to the bride and groom, and also as a trade-off, since Grand Park was actually county-owned and maintained…

To be continued…

Image source: The Ezcaray Reredos altar carving, Our Lady of Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles. © 2017 Jon Bastian. All rights reserved.

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 1

Last week brought us to the last first-person short story. Now comes the closing novella, told in third-person, in which everyone comes together. Since a lot of us are still locked up, I think I’m going to share a bit more of this one in a few installments, since this part is 20,000 words or so. You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here.

TAKING HOPE

September 23, 2029, was the high point of the Los Angeles social calendar of the year, possibly even the decade, and it all began early on that Sunday morning at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, at Grand and Temple downtown or, as locals knew it, DTLA. The wedding was going to be presided over by Archbishop Cacciapuoti, successor to Archbishop Gomez, with the actual celebrant being Father O’Malley, who had been the bride’s first confessor.

Apparently, it had taken some finagling on the part of the bride’s parents to make it happen, since the groom was the son of a Lutheran mother and a father of no particular faith, but since his father was a prominent real estate developer in the county, enough wheels were greased that it was not a problem at all at all and he didn’t need to go through the motions of converting, and that the ceremony would still be a full Mass, which was very unusual in the case of “mixed” marriages. But, nowadays, the Church really needed the money, and the cathedral did need some repairs after the earthquake, the groom’s father knew people, and the work was agreed to be donated by the middle of August, ahead of the wedding.

There were half a dozen media vans parked outside the Cathedral, antennas extended and reporters deployed to harass arrivals by six a.m., although the arrivals for the pre-ceremony luncheon weren’t set to start until ten a.m. Say what you want, but only in L.A. would you find a green carpet and a step and repeat in front of a place of worship early on a Sunday morning. (Yes, the green carpet was in keeping with the chosen wedding theme.)

The schedule of events had gone out in advance to all of the invited guests who had RSVP’d, as well as to the media, planned out to the minute as follows:

11:00........Arrivals Begin, 2 North Grand Avenue
11:00 to 13:00.....Pre-Luncheon, The Plaza at CTG
13:30......Ceremony, Our Lady of Angels Cathedral
15:00.................Reception, Upper Grand Park
18:00 to 20:00.............................Dinner
20:00 to 23:00;............Cake, Dancing, Karaoke
23:01....... Departures from 2 North Grand Avenue

The luncheon and dinner menus were elaborately detailed, with guests instructed to choose up to three entrees per meal, with options to pick the same for both meals or different ones for each meal. There were ten choices here, covering all the bases through the five most common meat food groups (beef, chicken, pork, fish, lamb) and specialized options (vegetarian, pescatarian, keto, ovo-lacto vegan, and vegan). Any or all of these could also be requested as gluten- or lactose-free, kosher, or halal.

The mayor’s planning team had missed nothing, so there were also heart-healthy/low-sodium options and diets catered to diabetics, with an email and link on the wedding website set up to take even more specific requests, and there were going to be multiple wedding cakes to cover all possible options — yes, even a vegan, gluten-, dairy- and nut-free version that was both kosher and halal. It was also sugar-free and made without salt, baking soda, or baking powder.

The entertainment during the reception included a bunch of A-listers, mostly local talent: music from Tudor, The Valet, and Tom Goss, with comedy from Lauren Pritchard, Bill Chott, and the dynamic duo of Rebekah Kochan and Ryan Kelly, better known to fans of “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” as Ryko Rebkel. Rounding out the bill were Gandalf the Magician, some aerial work from Kennedy Kabasares, and a ComedySportz improv show with eight performers and a referee who were well-known from the hit Amazon Prime interactive series that was now in its fifth season.

Of course, none of the people who stayed inside the “snooty party,” as Alejandra had taken to calling it in private, would probably ever figure out to wander down to what was being billed — quite separately and in channels the rich would never see — as The People’s Concert in the Park. She had planned it that way intentionally, and the County was footing the bill for that one.

She could plan it that way, after all, since she was Alejandra Peréz, the mayor of Los Angeles, and mother of the bride. To her, there was something symbolic about Grand Park anyway that she didn’t think a lot of people picked up on. The bottom end of it — literally. Since it was the lowest elevation — faced the steps of City Hall. The second division, the same size as the first, was flanked by the L.A. County Hall of Records and the Law Library. The L.A. Metro Station was located at the top end of the second division — rather appropriate in the scheme of things, as will become apparent shortly.

The upper level, which was as big as the other two combined and much higher up, was flanked by the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration Building and the L.A. County Sheriff’s headquarters. Opposite the top end of that part of the park was the L.A. Music Center. It was also the part with the huge fountain and elevators.

Alejandra always thought of it as a very subtle topological representation of the politics of failed capitalism. City Hall was a reminder that all government should derive its power from the People, and no one else. It stood at the lowest end of the park as a reminder that even the lowest citizen had equal rights and standing in the eyes of the government — and the steps leading up to its portico across Spring Street were a visual reminder and invitation: Anyone in our system is welcome to climb. Well, in a true Democracy, sure. In capitalism? Not so much.

The second level represented citizens who were a bit more well-off, but still in view of City Hall, with two public resources of information on either side. These were the folk who benefited (or should) from society’s most successful implementations of socialism: public education, and public libraries. Alejandra wondered whether the placement of the Metro station at the top of the hill above this part of the park was intentional or not. In reality, the station long pre-dated the creation of the park, but really turned out as a fitting marker, because the L.A. Metro station had turned out to be a great equalizer and method for helping the poor to have greater access to their own city, in effect, pulling them up the metaphorical hill of Grand Park.

As for the upper part — it was a bigger piece of the pie, had the better stuff, and was surrounded by the halls of power. If you started at City Hall and walked up, it took real effort, and if you were handicapped or unable to walk uphill in any way, forget it. You weren’t making that journey. But if you did wind up in that rarefied atmosphere of those on top, you would emerge from the park to find yourself at the bottom of a set of steps that almost seemed designed to say, “Stay out,” because you really couldn’t see what was at the top of them.

What was at the top was one of the premier theater companies in the city — the two thirds on the right for the people — and the snooty, old-money ballet and opera company on the left for the old and rich. It was sort of a microcosm of Grand Park repeated and turned on its side, with the plaza between an analog of the Metro Station — the place for all wedged between the place for common folk and the place for the overlords.

Kind of ironic that from the POV coming up from Grand Park, the former was on the right and the latter on the left, but that was probably something way out of the hands of city planners. After all, the Music Center complex up top had been built in the 1960s, while Grand Park didn’t open until 2012. (What Alejandra had no way of knowing was that the Music Center was one of the reasons that Cindy’s mom had convinced her father to relocate the family to Los Angeles, even if Cindy’s mom did wind up at Universal instead of Center Theater Group.)

Still… because Alejandra had always had this take on Grand Park, she had requested of the wedding planner that the wedding party start there, and basically follow the route of Los Pobladores, who were the (mythical) original 44 settlers who founded Los Angeles in 1781, when it was known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula. This was another reason that she had insisted that her daughter made as much as possible in the wedding green, because everything else that didn’t involve the couples’ clothes was either red or white, and la alcaldesa, Alejandra, had also arranged for there to be live eagles trained to snatch (but not kill) non-venomous snakes from among the crowd outside and then tow them to conveniently placed rocks around the area, one of the largest in the middle of the Grand Park fountain.

Those who needed to get it would. Those who didn’t, well… they would probably inadvertently wind up donating a ton of money to the city because of all of the souvenir stands that appeared to be set up by locals, but which, again, were all the mayor’s doing. That, and stuff that would be happening here later, during the reception.

To be honest, Alejandra was tired of this shit, but since she had found an actual non-corrupt way to soak the hell out of the rich upper classes in this city of vast income inequality, she was going to milk it for all it was worth, and then let it actually trickle down.

Every single person on the work staff was going to split at least 10% of the total sales take in tips, which would probably be enormous, and there were going to be at least five opportunities during the reception for the stupidly wealthy to get into a dick-measuring contest over who could donate the most or bid the most or whatever, all of which would (unbeknownst to them) be divided up equally among the reception serving staff. All they would hear is that they were donating to a worthy cause, so they could feel good about themselves, never suspecting that the people they were helping were actually the people around them that they ignored or insulted or patronized every single day. If anybody pressed her or her staff on it, they would only respond, “Your donation is going towards fighting poverty in the city.”

Well, it wasn’t a lie, was it?

Alejandra really didn’t care about the mechanics. She only cared that the really big bucks sucked out of rich assholes in this way would get divided among all of the non-management workers and would probably cover all those stupid things like oh, who knew… rent, food, insurance, utilities, student loan debt? Possibly for several months. You know… those “luxury” items the rich don’t think that the working class need.

It was her version of backdoor socialism, or an arrogance tax. Make the superrich feel like they were stroking their egos by wasting money on shit, then smile and say thanks while that money actually did some good.

She had been open and transparent about her plans within the government itself, and while not made public, the plan was vetted and approved by her own legal counsel, the City Attorney, the City Council, and the County Commissioner and Board of Supervisors for good measure. If word ever did leak out, the paper trail — well, electron trail — would be incontrovertible proof of her honorable motives and, if anything, it would really boost her popularity. Who knew what she could accomplish in similar fashion as Governor?

The best part, though, was that not a peep about it leaked to the entire wedding staff, and she would have word sent out about halfway through the reception that there was a mandatory meeting at the end of the event, with her direct staff instructed to act like it was a bad thing, but say nothing. Then, when they’d gathered everybody into the lobby of the Mosk Courthouse, which was serving as a staging area, she was going to come in looking royally pissed, let them all shake for a moment, and then break into a broad smile and say, “I bet none of you expected that this job came with a nice bonus,” and then explain what had happened and end it all with the per-dollar figure per person.

Hey, she had been a stand-up comic back in college, which is what led to her becoming an inspirational speaker, which is what led to her becoming mayor in the first place. And she loved nothing more than making people happy but knew the power of hills and valleys when it came to emotions. (She’d spent some time as an actress, too.) Make them feel bad for a moment, then give them amazing good news, and they’ll shoot even higher into sheer joy, and that was the emotion she wanted them to feel.

Meanwhile, the people who had helped make the whole thing happen got the VIP express transport to and preferred seating in the Cathedral long before any of the celebs or politicos who thought that they were special did.

Alejandra moved her tailor and all of his staff and guests and SOs front of line, so that Jackson and his date Cindy, and Finley and his dates Tycho and James, just get to waltz right in and take up the pews to the left of the altar, closest to the action. In gratitude and at the bride’s request, Alejandra also lets the vendors and contractors in, so that Jackson was able to bring Fumiko Miyade, Jackon’s fabric provider, and Haru Toyama, her nephew and assistant. Jackson even finagled it so that Adam and Tony got to sit with Finley and company, since they all apparently had some sort of complicated multiple relationship going on.

As for Toby Arnot, he bought his way in, because of course he did, but after his ridiculous donation, he’s allowed to bring in his assistant, Adrian, to the latter’s extreme gratitude. They both also, although it’s not clear at whose behest, bring along an older Chinese woman, Wei-Tso Yung, and an even older American woman, Edna Ferris, and only a few of the much older conservatives in attendance recognize her from her film work, but ashamedly say nothing. Toby is also able to grease the wheels to be able to bring along all of Wei-Tso’s tenants, of which there are 44 at the time.

Thanks to some advance notice via Alejandra to Jackson (and her largesse), all of the early seated, non-wedding party VIP guests to the left of the altar got their own matching wedding garb — nothing as fancy as the wedding party, but the men got tailored evening suits in corresponding colors, and the women got gowns and shoes. She had also personally paid Jackson to outfit every last server, usher, cook, bartender, and bar-back in similar fashion and, just for shits and giggles, she had him outfit the photographer, videographer, and planner to boot. Again, they were all outfits that could be worn at places that weren’t weddings.

She had paid for all of the non-wedding party outfits herself although, ironically, while she could have easily afforded it, Toby’s little admission “bribe” (which wasn’t really one) more than reimbursed her the expense. Luckily, in her mind, there was no way in hell she would approve any of the crazy gentrifying projects of his that had been in the pipeline to date.

Eventually all of the guests were seated, with the press awkwardly stationed on top of the part of the narthex that technically jutted into the nave at the back of the sanctuary. Well, okay, technically not the narthex, because the layout of this cathedral was very non-traditional, but it served that purpose, being the atrium outside of the entrance down the center of the nave. Above it, they were on a platform about thirty feet up, with a perfect view of everything from here to the back of the ambulatory and the bema and altar dead center.

Just before things began, Alejandra looked around and thought, “I wonder how many people in this room realize that this part means absolutely nothing, and that my daughter and son-in-law are already married because they signed the paper in my office yesterday afternoon?” Maybe it was just because she’d been involved in the law for so long but, despite having grown up Catholic and still appreciating the trappings, Alejandra also knew that a church ceremony didn’t mean squat when it came to actually, you know… marrying two people. For that, only a license from the government and two witnesses were required. She’d known this for years, and it was one of the things that most frustrated her as she’d fought against Prop 8 in what seemed like the dark ages. No matter how many times she’d told the religiously recalcitrant, “No, nothing about this will force your church to perform gay weddings,” they turned a deaf ear.

Then again, as an elected official, Alejandra had learned what everyone else in a skilled and trained profession also knew: Everybody who doesn’t do what you do thinks that they know everything about it and could do it better, and every one of them is dead wrong.

Something something Dunning–Kruger effect… but then she heard the opening notes of the procession from the back of the nave.

What nobody expected, but which Alejandra and the groom’s mother, Brenda, had planned for months, was how much of a pageant this would be and, for a lot of people, probably a mind-bender because it would account for the background of both partners.

To be continued…

The Saturday Morning Post #9

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 9. If you want to catch up, check out the first one here and the previous one is here. The one thing to remember is that each of the 13 short stories is narrated by a new character, and the novella is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. 

Last time, we met tailor’s assistant Finley as he was starting a relationship with newly promoted county official Tycho. In the excerpt from this chapter, Finley’s boss Jackson picks up the story, and an old character from Chapter 5 returns.

GREEN WEDDING

If everything had worked out as planned, we would have retired two years ago, and June and I would be traveling the world, but there seems to be little point to that now. I’m not going to meet anyone new at my age, and traveling alone has no appeal. This house has also become a hollow and constant reminder of her absence. Yet I still can’t bring myself to disassemble her scrapbooking and crafts room.

To this day, I still sleep with her favorite red quilted satin robe and matching slippers laid out on her side of the bed. The only comfort I have here is Shay, the dog I adopted after June passed, mostly so that I wouldn’t come home to an empty house. She’s seven now, and the perfect rescue mutt. About thirty pounds, an interesting mix of breeds (Terrier, chow, Akita, and German Shepherd) and she resembles a black fox or coyote — long snout, erect and pointy ears, a white “sword” on her chest, and white “spats” on her feet.

Since travel is out of the picture, I throw myself into work, and I find it comforting, actually. I do feel sorry for my chief cutter and seamstress, Arlene, though. She was the one I was going to recommend take over when I retired, but my dream canceled is going to be her dream deferred, I suppose. Of course, assuming that running a government-contracted tailor shop was her dream in the first place. I could easily see her looking to go into her own business and specialize in wedding and funeral wear.

It had become quite standard, among a certain class of people, to never rent anything for a wedding, because they saw it as tacky. Everything had to be custom made and designed. In the industry, we had started to use the British term, “bespoke,” a few years ago because it just sounded posher and allowed us to charge more. Surprisingly, they started doing the same thing for funerals, and a lot of places were doing a brisk business in bespoke morning (and mourning) dress and formal wear.

Thank god they don’t make top hats out of actual beaver felt anymore, but I don’t think I’ve seen this many being produced since I can remember, and I was born not long after the end of the era in which no businessman would even think of appearing on the street not wearing a hat. All right, not a topper, but a fedora or Homberg or bowler. Maybe a pork pie if they were… oh, what was the word? “Hep.”

There’s a funny thing about this business. If you describe yourself as a tailor, nobody assumes anything. But as soon as you veer away from that definition and say that you design clothing, or you work in fashion or the garment industry — and especially if you say that you design and create women’s dresses — a lot of people of my generation will just assume that you’re gay.

Not that it ever bothered me, but it is a really interesting distinction, and it doesn’t quite make sense. I mean, wouldn’t a gay man be more interested in dressing up other men and making them look good? Not to mention that measuring someone for a suit involves a lot of justified touchy-feely, and you do get to ask them directly which way their junk swings, although very coyly. “Do you dress left or right?” Although we stopped with “dress” and just stuck to the directions a long time ago, because people around my age and younger had no idea what it meant.

On the flip side, it seems like a straight man would be a better judge of how to make clothes that make a woman look sexy. Of course, given the usual materials used, the frequent difficulty of getting into and out of them, and the absolute lack of pockets or any kind of insulation, maybe the real secret is that a lot of dress designers actually hate women, regardless of their own sexuality.

I like to do my designs a little differently, and the major bespoke project I’m working on now — for the mayor’s daughter’s wedding party coming up in about five months — is going to follow the guidelines I’ve always used.

Season-appropriate material, lined and insulated if necessary.

Deep and wide pockets that are easily hidden within the lines without creating bumps or bulges.

The woman commissioning it gets to decide whether it buttons left or right, and I try to limit it to the same number of buttons as a man’s shirt, which is six to eight. None of this ridiculous 12 or 15 or more buttons, especially all down the back. Buttons are utilitarian, not decorative.

Speaking of which, I also prefer to put the zipper in front and hide it, so that a woman doesn’t need an assistant to get it on. None of this step into it like bunny suit in a clean-room at JPL. Pull it on like coat, zip it yourself, smooth down the Velcro pleat disguising the zipper seam, done.

I also lean toward very Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Belle Epoque designs, depending on the woman’s figure. I’m not against mid-century modern for wedding dresses, although fashion of the era, unlike the architecture and furniture, is a bit boring. I refuse to design for anyone gauche enough to think that any fashion design movement from the 1960s through 1990s should get anywhere near a wedding.

Fortunately, Valentina, the mayor’s daughter, is totally up for a very Erté style, which is right in the heart of art deco. I was already envisioning a streamlined sheath dresses with a swallow-tail train, armless but with a cuff and drop-sleeve on the left arm, maybe even a beaded turban and choker or, if she were up for it, a semi-circular, Aztec inspired headdress on top of a structured velvet skull cap.

Of course, that was going ultra-high art deco. I was already researching fabrics. From the waist up, probably forest green damask — her favorite color — worked in with rhinestone beaded tulle in seafoam green. For the lower part of the dress, I was thinking of layering in feather lace in a darker green to line sequin-embroidered mesh in emerald. Emerald jewelry — earrings, dark green choker with an emerald inset, and so on, and of course shoes inlaid with emerald sequins — the negative image of Dorothy’s ruby slippers — would finish it off. Tiara, turban, or headdress would come up later, but it would also be a dazzler in various shades of green.

The bridesmaids would get a simpler version of the bride’s get-up, probably rhinestone embroidered tulle or sequin embroidered mesh, emerald over Kelly green, without the swallowtail or drop-sleeve. Of course, the mesh would be lined with feather lace in a lighter green.

As for the men, well, we all know that men’s clothes are boring as anything, and why they haven’t evolved much, I have no idea. Since the wedding was going to be in Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, it meant that protocol demanded morning dress for the men. I briefly considered giving them emerald green tailcoats with forest green velvet lapels, short toppers to match, and Kelly and seafoam pinstriped pants, along with white vests, seafoam shirts, emerald green ascots, and emerald cufflinks and tiepin. At least these outfits wouldn’t need a cummerbund.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that while the women would be able to wear their dresses anywhere and forever, I’d be limiting the men to only ever dragging these things out again on St. Patrick’s Day, so took a different tack.

Gray tailcoat, pinstripe gray pants, white vest, pale green shirt, with paisley ascot in forest and seafoam green, five emerald buttons on the vest, and matching emerald cufflinks. The groom would get a gray stovepipe top hat and the groomsmen would get a short-crowned version of the same. I was debating whether or not to give the men walking sticks with gray bases and large green crystal orbs on top, but that might be a bit much.

However, I was definitely going to give the men boutonnieres and the women wrist-corsages of green carnations to match. This was basically my tribute to my assistant, Finley, who is just a darling young gay boy and very talented. He once told me that in Oscar Wilde’s day, a green carnation was what gay men wore to tell each other, “Hey there!”

He’s met someone, by the way, in the wake of the recent earthquake I’m really trying not to think about. But I’m really happy for him. It’s so cute that he doesn’t want to tell me who it is, even though we both know that I figured it out immediately. Okay, I totally get that he feels weird about admitting that he’s going out with a newly appointed director of a county department who is also the youngest one ever and who has been all over the media, but I know the rules. Since Finley does not work directly for this guy at all and isn’t in any subservient position to him (well, at work; his private life is private), then it’s anything goes. I wish them all the luck.

And I wish myself all the luck after I get a text from… not Valentina, but her mother, Alejandra, aka Mayor Pérez. “Like the direction you’re going, need to see fabric samples. When? Thx.”

Well, I guess that depends on how racked up the garment district still I is, since the big one was only just over a week ago. I text my contact down on Santee Alley. “Fumiko, is your shop up and running now?”

She replies in five minutes. “Yes, but messy. What u need?”

“Samples, art deco, VIP. ASAP.” I reply.

“U come down.”

I reply to her with a thumbs up, then reply to Alejandra. “Going to get them now, but it’s late in the day. Are you free tomorrow?”

“Yes, if you can bring them up to Getty House.”

Well, I’m not sure about that, because while the Mayor’s House is only just under four and a half miles as the crow flies, as the car drives, it’s a rather convoluted route from downtown to there, at 6th and Irving. It shouldn’t be but it is because of the weird way that every street in L.A. tilts to the northeast as soon as it crosses Hoover. This is why even natives lose any sense of direction once they get into DTLA, because the simple East/West orientation of the numbered streets just goes away.

On top of all this, I’m not sure which streets are still impassable. Before I answer her, I text my assistant, Fin. “What is the fastest travel time by street vehicle from here to Getty House tomorrow morning?” I ask.

It’s less than two minutes before he replies. “A couple of streets still blocked, so best estimate is an hour and fifteen minutes.”

I tell him thanks, then reply to Alejandra. “What time?”

“11 a.m.” she replies. I give her thumbs up, then text Fumiko, “On my way,” and text Finley. “Errand. Meet me in the garage in five minutes.”

At least Santee was a short commute, and the only reason we took a car and I had Finley come along was because I’d be hauling samples back. And if you ever want to go to a part of L.A. that will most remind you of the Blade Runner films, this is it. Ironic that one of them was set a decade ago while the other is still twenty years in the future.

But, anyway, Santee is sort of the L.A. smuggler’s row. You can buy anything here, although most of it will be a knock-off or off-brand. Clothes, jewelry, electronics, toys, musical instruments, contact lenses, prescription medications (ill-advised), and various pets of the turtle, rabbit, and rat variety. You can also pretty much buy a bootleg copy of any major film that went premiered streaming the night before with a small fee and a phone bump with a sidewalk dealer who always has one eye out for the cops.

I guess that’s an improvement over fifteen years ago, when it was DVDs recorded in the theater to give people a really low-quality version of the latest film.

Now, Fumiko’s shop wasn’t in this den of thieves, but on the edge, in the respectable part of the garment district. It was a corner store with generous sliding glass doors to the street and tons of bolts of fabric lined up in cardboard boxes with price per yard labels prominent.

Finley and I went in and Fumiko spotted and greeted us right away. I quickly explained the who and what of the project, and handed her my fabric request list. She read it and smiled.

“Well, this is going to take care of both of us for a year or two,” she said. Then she called out, “Haru!” After a few seconds, her assistant came running and she handed him the list. “Please cut a yard of each of these for our very esteemed client.” Haru took the list, gave a slight head nod, and trotted off. Fumiko smiled at both of us.

“While we’re waiting, would you like some tea?”

The one thing I knew from experience. Never say no when a Japanese or British American offers you tea. “But of course,” I say. I notice Finley’s confused look, but he’s too good of an assistant to make any complaint.

Fumiko leads us to an area near the middle of the store and makes us tea as we sit at the square black-lacquer table that I’m pretty sure came from IKEA. I’ve worked with her for years, and she’s been one of my three main suppliers of fabric, even long before I landed the city and county job.

She almost immediately tunes in on Fin, gives him a smile, and says, “You’re in love, aren’t you?”

“Why do people keep saying that?” he replies and she just laughs.

“Because it shows,” she tells him. “And that’s a good thing.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes, really.”

The conversation turns to my plans for the mayor’s daughter’s wedding, and she seems very excited by the idea that there’s going to be so much green in this wedding.

“It’s a favorable color in Japan,” she explains. “It’s the color of tea. But also of youth, eternity, vitality and energy. All good signs for a wedding.”

As I agree, a woman walks in from outside and calls out. “Hello? Anyone here?”

Fumiko stands and crosses to greet her. I look over and suddenly realize that she is, well, not identical to June, but of a type. Around my age, blonde hair and simple black dress. Kind of an Earth-mother vibe, and with a very raspy but sexy voice.

“I’m looking for green-screen material,” she explains. “It’s for a video shoot.”

“Of course,” Fumiko replies. “We have that exact color. How much do you need?”

“Well, how wide are your bolts? Because I need twenty-three feet wide by seventeen feet tall.”

“Double-bolts are twelve feet high,” Fumiko says. “Singles are six. It’s probably more economical to go for three by twenty-three off of a six bolt, rather than two by twenty-three off of a twelve bolt.”

“Great,” she says. “So how much?”

“Our chromo green is $6.99 a yard, so…” she did some calculations on her phone, “So seven and two-thirds yards wide, times three plus tax… We’re looking at $177.25, but I’ll make it an even $175.”

“Perfect,” the woman says. “And can you deliver?”

“Oh,” Fumiko’s face drops. “No, it’s what we call cash and carry here. Or credit or ePay.”

“Oh.” The woman also seems disappointed. “I came here on the Metro, and this is going to be kind of big and heavy, isn’t it?”

“Most likely,” Fumiko replies. “This is thick material.”

I see my opening and I take it.

“Hi,” I say. We drove here and have plenty of extra room if you’d like a ride back. Where are you going to?”

“Really?” she says, seeming genuinely touched. “Sure. I’m at a place in Korea Town, just off Wilshire.”

“Oh, perfect,” I tell her. “We’re running this stuff off down Sixth and so just north of there.” Technically not a lie. I just neglect to tell her we’re not doing that until tomorrow. I add, “Not a problem.”

Finley shoots me a look. Well, two looks. The first is “WTF?” but the second, as he gets it, is “Oh, you sly fucking dog.”

“What kind of video project is this for?” I ask.

“It’s for a theater company. Well, a theater, art collective, whatever. We do acting and improv and dance and music and so on and so on, but the woman who runs it decided that we should make a movie.”

“It sounds amazing,” I tell her. “And do you perform with them?”

“Oh god no,” she laughs. “I couldn’t act my way out of a box of Kleenex. But the kids we work with are… amazing.”

There’s a moment of sudden connection — pause, eye contact, and shared smile, and then her eyes dart away and look down.

“What do you do?” she asks.

“Make clothes,” I say. “I’m a tailor but contracted to the city and county.”

“Ah,” she beams. “So that’s why you’re here.”

“Yep,” I say. “Picking up samples for a wedding party.”

“Oh,” she says, and I can see her doing the “Fuck, he’s gay dance” in her head.

“Hey, I’ve got nothing better to do since my wife died,” I toss in, and I see her immediately brighten up.

“Your wife…?”

“Yeah. Cancer. Sudden. I’m still dealing with it.”

“Oh, you poor thing. I know what it’s like to lose someone suddenly.”

“Husband?”

“Son.”

“Oh my god. I am so sorry.”

“You want to know the ironic part? You know what killed him?”

“No.”

“Earthquake,” she said. “And obviously not here, because we’re a lot better at them than where he died.”

“Wh…” I started to ask but cut myself off, but she didn’t seem to care.

“Nepal,” she answered calmly. “Wow. Fourteen years ago. I’d just turned 50 when it happened, too.”

I do the math in my head, and realize, oh wow, definitely age appropriate.

“So, yeah, any fabric hauling or ride-sharing you need, it’s really not a problem. In fact, it’d be a pleasure.”

“You’re sure?” she asks.

“Oh, yes,” I reply, and then Fumiko returns carrying my samples over her arm, Haru following, struggling to haul the green screen cloth on a cart while keeping it steady.

“This is pretty heavy,” she says. “You probably couldn’t take it by yourself.”

“That’s okay,” the woman explains. “I’ve found a couple of white knights.”

Fumiko gives me a look that I clearly recognize because I’ve known her for so long: You go, you old dog.

“So… you said… wedding?” the woman asks.

“Yeah, for the mayor’s daughter. Very art deco, upmarket stuff.”

“Really?” she says, flipping through the samples. “Well, I’ve got to say, you have really good taste in fabric, at least.”

“And your green screen would actually fit the bride’s theme. Shall we?”

She nods, hands her credit card to Fumiko, and in three minutes Haru and Finley are wheeling the carts up to the parking lot, where they heft the fabric into the back of the car, the green screen stuff on top. I sit in the back with the woman, and Finley drives us out to Koreatown first.

I’m kind of surprised to find out that she’s living in a theater, but she gives me the whole backstory as Finley and I lug the fabric into the lobby. Like she told me, she’s not a performer, but loves the arts, and takes care of the pet collective here. She also explains that they’re still and always doing shows, and that there’s an improv tonight, if I want to come back.

“I’d love to,” I tell her. “I mean, if you’re going to see the show with me.”

“Of course,” she replies, and I feel the tingle of a connection. On the drive back with the wedding fabric, Finley says nothing, but just has this shit-eating grin. I say nothing until we’re pulling into the parking structure.

“Okay, what?” I demand.

“How soon is your wedding, and do I get to design it?”

“Oh, shut up,” I tell him, teasingly, and he just laughs…

The Saturday Morning Post #4

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 4. If you want to catch up, check out the first one here and the previous one here. The one thing to remember is that each of the 13 short stories is narrated by a new character, and the novela is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. Oh yeah.. there was also that whole earthquake thing earlier in the day…

Incidentally… This happens to be my 200th post. Wow. 

DANCING ON THE EDGE

“All the best boys are gay.”

That’s what she said after I’d taken her in my arms and mentioned my boyfriend, and it made me really happy to be rescuing her from her wrecked post-quake apartment. It got even better when my landlord, Madam Wei, invited her in as permanent second house mother. This had been a really interesting week, and also kind of difficult for me and Tony. I mean, even though we lived in a basic dorm situation, we had also managed to arrange a totally gay room, so that “sexin’ the BF” (or anyone else) was not at all weird. Plus we’re performers, so having an audience also wasn’t weird.

It was probably our artsy schedule in the weeks before the quake more than anything that had kept us from banging, but the second after the quake, the only thing we could think of was consolation fucking, and hard. Not that we did it right after, but once we’d all come back home after playing rescue squad up and down the street and giving the naybs a free (non-sexual) show on the street, you bet your ass that Tony and I finally got down to it. It was after midnight, the place still had no lights or electricity, or anything else, but we both hopped up onto my top bunk, and I railed his ass like there was no tomorrow. Which, honestly, there might not have been, since we’d kind of lived through a mini-apocalypse today.

The following dawn, I woke up with my morning wood pressed up against his hot ass, and shortly thereafter, in it. Lather, rinse, repeat before starting our day, and then in the evening I let him rail me long into the night (we’re both vers), and nobody in our room objected.

The whole thing with Cindy had really kind of affected me, and by the time we’d made it through the aftershocks and Tony and I were done cumming all over, on, and in each other, all I could think about was the shape of her apartment when Madam Wei and I went in to get her out.

See, I’m from L.A., but I was born in ’06, so this was my first major earthquake. The last big one was a little over thirty-five years ago, although I’d heard Madam Wei talk about that one a few times. Anyway, it means I’ve got no reference for things like what we saw in that building. I’m used to rooms having level floors and all the walls are at right angles — or at least some sort of normal angle.

This had been like walking into a Dali painting, although to hear Madam Wei describe it, she does exaggerate a bit. She makes it sound like the entire apartment was on its side, but if that had been the case I never could have gotten Cindy out of there without a harness, rope, and pulley. Yes, one side was definitely lower than the other, but it was more of a natural ramp than a precipice. The real reason she couldn’t get out is that she just couldn’t get a grip on the floor. Luckily, the shoes I was wearing had really rough soles.

Apparently, a major feature of disasters like this is that it’s the only time neighbors in L.A. actually meet and talk to each other — another lesson from Madam Wei — and it was pretty amazing to watch. By Friday, the third day after the quake, Cindy figured out where we had come from. She’d been staying in a six‑person tent one of her neighbors had pitched in front of their building, and so she was also in the loop when, on the day after, she and the other tenants were given one hour to go in, with fire department escorts, to retrieve whatever valuables, documents, and clothing they could. After that, the building was red-tagged, meaning that no one was allowed to enter. It would probably be torn down eventually.

“I remember when there were red and yellow tags all over the city,” Madam Wei had explained to us at dinner that evening. “After Northridge — that was the quake in the 90s — a lot of places were condemned. At least there is a good side to it. Every time after, there are fewer places that are destroyed because we learn how to build better.”

She looked a little pensive but then went on. “Because of their history with my country, I have no love for the Japanese,” she added. “But one thing they have done is learn from their earthquakes, which China has not done. Every year, their buildings and cities get safer. Ours… well, my homeland’s…” She sighed and trailed off.

Cindy retrieved what little she could, mostly clothes, a few sentimental items, and a small, metal lockbox that presumably contained either documents, valuables, or a combination of both.

On Friday afternoon, as I helped her bring her stuff up to her new quarters, she told me, “You know, it’s funny. Not all that long ago, like around the turn of the century, if you asked someone what one inanimate thing they’d save if their house was on fire, they’d always answer, ‘My photo albums.’ Nowadays, no need, because all of our photos are on our phones or in the cloud. Hell, so are most of our vital documents. Does this place have a safe?” she abruptly asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe. It was an office building once. Madam Wei would know.”

“Madam… oh, you mean Alice?”

“Yeah, her.”

“I’ll have to ask.” Her tone suddenly became playful. “So, when do I get to meet your boyfriend?”

“Uh… you kind of already did. Tony, down in the lobby?”

“The real hot blond one with the sexy smile?”

“Yeah, but he’s not really blond,” I explained. People think he is because of that platinum streak he dyes in his hair, but he’s actually brunet.”

“Wow,” she exclaimed. “You’re right. He does have very blond skin, though, if that makes sense.”

“Yeah, I guess, if you’re thinking more surfer-blond than Nordic-blond.”

“Is he Scandinavian or something?”

“No. Italian.”

“Really? He hardly looks Italian.”

“Northern. That’s where all the fair-skinned, sometimes blond Italians are.”

“I had no idea,” she replied. “Learn something new every day. Are you Italian?”

“Nah. Mexican. Well, Mexican-American… Fourth generation Angeleno.” I always had to pause to count in my head back to the right number of tatarabuelos to the ones that were born during the Mexican Revolution and brought to El Norte by their parents when they were children. Their children were the first native generation, born in the 1930s. So my great-great-grandparents came here. My great-grandparents were born here.

“That’s impressive,” she said. “Most people I know weren’t born here. I’m from Minnesota, but only second generation. My grandparents were all from Israel.”

“And yet, you’re blonde,” I said, teasingly.

“Well, they weren’t born there since they were born in the late 30s. Their grandparents were Ashkenazi Jews from Germany who hid from the Nazis in Belgium during the war, then immigrated in 1948 when Israel became a country.”

“Wait… you’re old enough to be only two generations from the Holocaust?” I asked.

“Honey, I’m old enough to be your grandmother.”

“You know, funny thing, my mom’s grandma is still alive. She’s 93, out in Rowland Heights.”

“Have you checked in on her?” she asked, clutching my forearm and showing utter concern.

“You kidding? Abuelita Ramona texted me five minutes after the quake. She’s old, but she’s really on it.”

I didn’t even realized it until we finish our conversation and I head back to my room that, well, we had a conversation, and it had been easy and spontaneous, and the thing is, that’s not something I generally do with strangers. It takes me time to break the ice. But with Cindy, she just created a natural trust in me, and an ability to share everything. I’m really going to like having her as our second house mother, which Madam Alice had already explained to me and Tony was going to be her new function.

Oh — and seeing her with the dogs and cats is inspiring. She clearly loves all animals and they love her. Even our white German shepherd Dan-xiao, whose name means “timid,” took to her immediately.

Friday night is another street show for the crowd, this time starting with the dance before moving to a second-act long-form improv show and ending up with a bunch of scripted comedy scenes. At the same time, our visual artists deploy themselves up and down the streets to do paintings, sketches, caricatures, and sculptures of willing subjects, collecting small donations for their efforts, which are all going to go to the Red Cross.

Oh yeah. They finally move in on Friday and set up their tents and shelters, and at long last people are getting hot food and “new” used clothes. One of the best things they bring are free phone-charging stations that are fast. Since we’re all going on well over 48 hours without electricity, a lot of people’s phones are either dead or in severe power-saver mode. A lot of us, like me, are realizing that while they’d be important later, taking lots of pictures now is not the best use of our batteries. They also have apparently set up functioning and open WiFi. There are rows of porta-potties, as well as shower tents, and various government field offices providing everything from EBT sign-ups to vouchers to outright cash disbursements.

Some of the guys in my room quickly dub it “Federal Row,” and the waggier ones among them jokingly say things like “Oh noes — we’re getting the socialisms!” even though most of us are hardcore socialists to begin with.

They’ve also set up OLED displays everywhere, and they’re showing the news, although a lot of it is being streamed in from outlets in other cities or international sites. This is when we all finally get the three bits of information that every native Angeleno starts asking themselves at the first sign of shaking: How big? How far? And does it get a name?

We finally get the answer. 7.3 Roughly fifty miles east and slightly south of Downtown L.A. And it’s now being called the Riverside Quake. We also get news that communities like San Bernardino, Redlands, Fontana, and Rancho Cucamonga, among others, have been severely damaged. The Moreno Valley has been particularly hard hit, with fires everywhere. If you’re not from L.A., you won’t quite get it, but these are places that most Angelenos only normally think of as things they see on freeway signs on the way to somewhere else, like Palm Springs or Vegas.

Suddenly, everyone does seem to care.

The Saturday Morning Post #2

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter Two. If you want to catch up, check out the first one here. The one thing to remember is that each of the 13 short stories is narrated by a new character, and the novela is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. Also,  these are not the entire chapters, just a taste of the first act of each.

* * *

SOUTHBOUND TO DOWNTOWN

This job actually turned out to be pretty sweet. All I have to do is go downstairs and across the street every morning to catch the B Train to Pershing Square, then take the short walk to my boss’s condo. Normally, I catch the 8:11 to get there. Technically, I could take the 8:23, although it wouldn’t allow me time to grab and eat my usual breakfast at Starbuck’s at 5th and Hill before making it to his place right next to Bunker Hill.

The schedule changes when he has late night/early morning meetings with overseas clients, and last night was one of them, in which case I catch the 10:11 train. Since he shifts his lunch schedule on these days, I shift my breakfast. The only rule on these days is that I don’t enter the condo/office before 11 a.m. on the dot, although I also seem to earn bonus points for being on the dot. As usual, I wave my phone and the door automatically unlocks. I know well enough to stay on the southwest corner, where the kitchen and offices are located, until he eventually emerges, usually around 11:45, from the other side of the place.

Those 45 minutes are mostly taken up by me dealing with toks, messages, and other random crap. I usually finish with all of it just about the time that my boss finally emerges from his quarters with a cheery, “Good morning, Adrian. How are you doing?”

I inevitably lie and say, “Oh, great. And you?” And he generally answers in one of three ways. “Meh,” “Fantastic,” or “Amazing.” I’d long since learned that only the latter answer is desirable, because it means that he’d sealed a really great deal the night before, and he tends to be rather generous when that happens.

Oh. His name is Toby Arnott, by the way. International marketing. He’s 35, which makes him only eight years older than me. I admire him and I fucking hate him.

“I’m doing okay,” I reply to him. “And you?”

“Amazing,” he answers, and I swear it gives me an erection. Why not? The first time he gave me a bonus after “amazing” it paid off my student loans. The second time, I managed to make a down-payment on the condo in a NoHo hi-rise I’m now living in. Oh, sure, I have two rent paying roomies, a lovely gay couple in their 30s who help with the mortgage, but I don’t mind. And my view of the NoHo Metro, Kaiser’s Medical Office Building, and points south and east is amazing.

By the third and fourth times, I decide to be smart and squirrel the money away as an emergency rainy day fund. Today is the fifth time.

He taps away on his phone, gives me a smile and raised eyebrow, then gives one final tap before he waltzes off to the kitchen. I hear the incoming ding but don’t dare swipe for the longest time. I mean, knowing him, it could say anything from “You’re fired” to “Here’s half my company.”

As I hear him happily whistling over the sound of the gurgling coffee maker, I finally bite the bullet and open the message, figuring it would be something trivial.

It isn’t. Every other bonus he’s ever given me has been five digits. This one is six, and I’m not sure whether to pass out, cum in my pants, run out the door screaming “I quit,” or all of the above.

Oh, and the first digit in that number is a six as well. If we’re going to get technical, the exact number is $623,451.26. I later learn that this is the net amount on an actual payment of $1,000,000, but the real question is “Why?”

See… guys my age get really suspicious when older people — men or women — get really generous. Our natural inclination is to think, “Okay. You’re paying because you want to fuck me, right?” And yeah, while I consider myself basically straight, in the past, and I’ll admit it, there were times when I took some cash to make ends meet and did things I wouldn’t normally have done.

Honestly, I consider it all to be training as an actor, nothing more nor less. Can’t act it if you haven’t done it, right?

But, anyway, I look at this number and my head is swimming. Is this real? Is he fucking with me? I know for a fact that he’s straighter than I am, so he’s not trying to get into my pants. And it’s just a number on screen, not a deposit to my bank yet. But if it’s real… holy fuck. Condo paid off tomorrow. Shit, everything paid off tomorrow. And condo and balance turned into the next step up. A house — which is generally an impossible dream for someone my age in this town.

Toby comes out of the kitchen with a cup of coffee in one hand and two fake egg McMuffins on a plate in the other that he makes in the really over-priced machine in there. He gives me a smile and a nod.

“Great work, Adrian. By the way, that should have hit your account by now.”

He heads back around to the residence part of the condo and, as soon as he’s gone, I’m logging into my banking app on my phone. My hands start shaking and my knees go weak as soon as I see that he’s not lying. That exact amount has been direct-deposited into savings, just like my regular paychecks, only a lot bigger.

I also start getting messages from a VP at my bank immediately saying that we should meet to discuss my change in finances. I ignore them as fast as they come in.

It also takes all of my willpower to not scream out “Holy fucking shitballs, yes!” But then I feel something else.

On the one hand, it’s been great working for this guy. Toby has taught me a lot and treated me well and, to be honest, the hours are easy, there’s paid time off and benefits, I get to run a lot of errands for him, meaning I get to drive his Tesla, and, face it, the bonuses are ridiculous. Nobody my age is making this kind of bank without being, well, a major asshole or a full-time porn star.

Although that’s kind of my one hesitation. See, Toby tells me all about what he does for a living but, at the same time, he doesn’t seem happy about it at all. “Kid,” he often tells me, “Don’t ever go into marketing. It’s the quickest way to lose your soul.”

“Yeah,” I want to reply, “But it sure as hell seems like the quickest way to make a shitload of money.”

I don’t reply this, though, because, apparently, the “shitload of money” part has ceased to interest him. And, of course it has, because why else would he have any interest in throwing so much money my way when he has no interest in throwing anything else (i.e. his cock) in the same direction?

There is one thing I’ve learned about him in the year and a half I’ve been here, and it’s that he tends to get very generous with me when he’s feeling very guilty about something else. I know that he’s making these crazy deals all the time. “Amazing” means I’m getting a bonus. “Fantastic” means he made a deal, but I’m not getting anything. “Meh” means he didn’t make any deals, although I’m never sure whether it’s because he didn’t have anything scheduled or that he didn’t manage to do it.

The first time I got an “amazing” and a bonus was about six months in, but about half an hour after that, he started telling me this story about something that had happened to him the night before. I didn’t make the connection at the time, nor did I after my second bonus. But the third time around, I realize that these are the only times he shares things like this with me. Otherwise, it’s all business talk and advice on marketing.

I don’t really remember the details of any of those stories other than they all involve Toby having a sense of failing to help someone when he could have, and while he never makes it explicit, I get the impression that he’s giving me the money to make himself feel better about what he considers a failing.

So this morning, as I remember how terribly grateful I am for the AC up here because it’s another scorcher of an April day, I get started on updating Toby’s calendar based on toks, various texts he’s sent me on priorities, so-mes and my own refined sense of how he does things and what order he prefers to deal with them. But I know that I’m not going to make it that far, because in about fifteen minutes, I’m probably going to be getting the latest Toby Tale of Failure and, sure enough, he comes out of the other side of the condo exactly fifteen minutes later like clockwork, returns the plate to the kitchen, asks me what’s next on his agenda — vid con with New York in twenty minutes to recap last night’s deal — and then casually leans on the wall next to my desk and starts telling his story, almost as if he’s delivering a monologue to no one.

I’ll spare you the details because I also don’t feel comfortable sharing Mr. Arnott’s personal 411s, but I will say that it involved a very late-night celebratory run for ice cream that had an unfortunate ending for an individual not my boss — and not his fault — but which still apparently left him feeling very, very guilty for not having done the right thing.

It’s moments like this that I really wonder whether he isn’t a saint who just went into the wrong business. I mean, if I felt one half as guilty about shit (in this case, literal) on the day-to-day as he does about these minor things that inspire him to basically gift huge sums of money to his personal assistant, I wouldn’t make it through a week.

It’s weird, really. I mean, I’m just a starving wannabe actor who lucks out with this gig at the right time. Since I’d arrived in L.A. five years ago, I’d been living in this funky sort of art commune in Koreatown. It was an ancient two-story 1920s brick and stone office building that some crazy-rich woman bought and converted into a weird hybrid of hostel and studio. Her name was Wei-Tso Yung. Although she had adopted the American name of Alice, everyone called her Madam Wei.

She had apparently been a big deal in Peking Opera back in China up until the 1980s, but then the form had started to fall out of favor for a lot of reasons. She had tried to explain it to me once, and the best I could gather is that the language it was performed in had become archaic and modern audiences didn’t understand it. Think Shakespeare to American ears, only times ten. The storylines also pre-dated Maoist China, which became problematic.

When the whole thing was modernized, especially with creative duties moving away from the performers and to the writers and directors, she rebelled, which didn’t go over well with the government. While on a concert tour to Singapore, she sought asylum, and eventually wound up in America, where she taught singing and movement successfully for a number of years, along with performing with a touring Peking Opera Company in America that followed the traditional ways — if you had to translate it anyway, the archaic language didn’t matter. She had also invested in various franchised businesses which had turned out well for her, mostly nail salons, liquor stores that made most of their money selling lottery tickets, and photographers specializing in actors’ headshots.

And so, when it came time to settle down to do what she really wanted, Madam Wei decided that it was to use her wealth to help creative people. And why not? By her calculations, she could spend twenty million a year, get nothing back, and make it to a hundred and twenty without going broke…