The Saturday Morning Post #27: The Rêves, Part 5

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

All-American Slam

“Wow,” Brenda said after Simon and Joshua had finished their tag-team explanation of what was going on. “Oh, wow,” she repeated, absently finishing up the last of the seasoned fries which was the last of bit her breakfast.

They had agreed, by the time they’d gotten here, that the evening had left them all very hungry. Joshua had gone for a custom cheeseburger, with double patties, Swiss and cheddar cheese, bacon, mayo, caramelized onions, and red-skinned potatoes on the side.

Meanwhile Simon built his own omelet, with fire-roasted bell peppers and onions, jalapeños, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, feta and pepper-jack cheese, an English muffin, seasonal fruit instead of potato, and fresh avocado on top.

Yeah, while Joshua and Simon were alike in a lot of ways, they weren’t when it came to food choices. That made cooking at home a bit awkward.

“I figured that would be your reaction,” Simon replied to Brenda’s “Wow.”

“But it makes so much sense now,” she said. “Of course that’s what’s going on. Okay, okay. I guess now it’s my turn to share.”

Of course, Joshua and Simon had only told her what they knew, which was naturally limited because Ausmann hadn’t been so forthcoming — and they had left out any mention of him or JPL, just that they were doing it for someone with government connections, while Joshua had done a brilliant job of tossing in the deflection of, “Well, this person is affiliated with a government organization we wouldn’t want to have anything to do with directly in a million years.”

Simon was actually proud of that one. Anyone who knew the two of them knew that they would each give their right nut, and probably toss in the left one, in order to have legit careers at JPL. Hell, offer to send them to Mars, they’d probably cut off their dicks as well.

“So, share?” Joshua replied.

Brenda proceeded to tell them about L.A. Metro lore, the stories that were passed along down the years, and shared as almost a rite of passage tradition for new employees — especially when a foreman was breaking in new tunnel crew who had the graveyard maintenance shifts of cleaning and repairing the trains, scooping dead rats out of the track beds, finding suicides that had been missed because they managed to get down a tunnel and in front of a train without a driver noticing, and so on.

That and constantly power-hosing piss and shit out of everything, because humans were pigs.

“Ghost stories to haze new employees?” Simon asked when she was done.

“That’s what I always thought, yeah,” she said. “But then I got into management, and then upper management, and then wound up actually seeing the so-called ‘R-Files.’”

“Is that anything like the X-Files­?” Joshua asked.

“Sort of,” Brenda said. “R. As in Riordan. Does that name ring any bells?”

Simon and Joshua looked at each other, both drawing blanks, finally replying, “No.”

“Yeah, y’all were probably too young. Where’d you grow up?”

“Here,” Joshua replied.

“Well, the Valley,” Simon said.

“West… Valley…” Joshua added reluctantly.

“So your parents probably voted for him. I was a junior, maybe senior in high school. So I knew of him, only knew I didn’t like him because he was an old white man, and a Republican — ”

“Eew!” Joshua and Simon chimed in together.

“And yet he marched in the Gay Pride Parade while was mayor. In the 90s. But the real shit was kept under cover, and that’s what’s in the R-Files.”

“Sounds… interesting,” Joshua said.

“Very,” Simon added.

“Yeah. Basically, it validates everything you’ve just told me, but I think it also fills in a lot of the holes in what you I know.”

“So tell,” Simon said.

“All right,” Brenda said, “But I think this is going to require coffee and dessert.”

“Agreed,” Joshua replied, Simon nodding.

Brenda went for the New York style cheesecake. Meanwhile, when it came to dessert, Joshua and Simon were the perfect match, so it was one chocolate lava cake, two forks. And then three large coffees all around.

* * *

Anabel

She knows that any Class 2’s or Class 3’s captured by the type of traps these assholes are using will, mercifully, be unconscious until they are released. She also knows, from what she’s seen, that those traps would not have captured her, and so was completely surprised to find herself taken in by something that left her entirely aware, and yet trapped like a butterfly under glass, able to see outside, and yet not get there.

She also couldn’t hear anything — the device she was sealed in was soundproof. Also, the dark-haired one had hung it back on his belt, and she was now sitting in her cage on the fake leather bench in what seemed to be a cheap diner booth, in between her two captors.

Even more infuriating than being imprisoned and not being able to hear what was going on, though, was that while she’d been alive she was the ruling power behind her entire extended family because she knew how to manipulate the patriarch of the clan, her paternal grandfather, Winthrop Stuyvesant Chanler, whom she always called Papaw Winnie.

She also had no brothers, only younger sisters, as did her father, which put her in a unique position, especially after her father died in a horseback riding accident while surveying one of their family’s many rancheros in the Eastern San Fernando Valley.

She was 13 at the time and it was 1906, about six months after the northern branch of the family had lost so much in the San Francisco earthquake. Or would have lost so much, except that when Anabel heard the news, she went to her grandfather and told him exactly how to use the disaster to make a fortune.

She told him he needed to go start a bank, to offer personal loans and to finance rebuilding; buy up real estate that seemed worthless; start several development companies; and get a few of her cousins into politics on the state level.

It turned out that the hardest part was starting the bank, but only because Amadeo Giannini, who had started the Bank of Italy in San Francisco two years earlier, had seen the promise in the idea, and had the gall to recreate it as the Bank of America with two Burgundy type wine barrels and a plank in the middle of the wreckage in North Beach, where he started handing out money to mostly Italian-Americans.

Fortunately, Anabel’s grandfather hated the people he always called “The Wops,” and made sure that all the bigger loans and better property went to the good old Anglos.

Ironically, decades later, the spot where Amadeo had started his bank would be near the site of the famous Transamerica Pyramid. Transamerica was Bank of America’s holding company. The Chanlers had always considered the Gianninis to be major-league assholes. The feeling was mutual.

But, in 1906, Anabel’s advice led to a flurry of telegraphs from her grandfather, as well as quickly booked train trips to as close to the Bay Area as they could get before riding in on horseback and horse-drawn cart, and over the next few years, Anabel’s plans succeeded beyond even her own wildest dreams. But between start and finish, her father died, leaving her as the only logical heir, which grandfather declared her to be on her eighteenth birthday in 1911.

This was when she pulled her second coup, seeing what was going on in Europe, and advising him that the best way to become rich in war-time was to provide arms. “To which side?” he had asked her.

“To all of them,” she said. And even though he had to compete with the Krupp dynasty of Essen, he gave them a run for their money, despite them having been in the arms business for almost 300 years at that point.

By 1918, the family had made another huge killing, grandfather had set Anabel up in several businesses of her own, making her a multi-millionaire, and everything looked great — then she caught the Spanish flu at the end of the year and it looked like she wasn’t going to make it.

Grandfather was beside himself, and consulted all of the experts as quickly as he could — starting with doctors, but then Anabel’s husband, Aldous LeCard, recommended several… less conventional “medics,” including spiritualists, faith healers, and mystics.

One of them, Madame Wilhelmina, happened to give the grandfather the idea that as long as a member of the family was remembered and honored by the rest of the family, no harm could come to them, so he immediately demanded that everyone think about and pray for Anabel five times a day.

He might have been a bit distracted and missed the doctor who had immediately started Anabel on the so-called “open air” treatment — that is, moving patients from inside of hospitals and into the outdoors onto field cots, which would be tented from direct sunlight but would receive adequate ventilation.

Second, while patients were still in the first stage of the illness, which Anabel was, doctors would give them several injections of quinine hydrochloride. All the while, medical staff would monitor lung function to make sure that pneumonia did not set in.

And, while there was no vaccine, Anabel lucked out by having a doctor who wasn’t against taking huge chances and, while medical science wouldn’t finally confirm his method for another sixteen years, he took the bold (and secret) risk of injecting Anabel with blood from a matched patient who had recovered from the Spanish flu.

Unfortunately, the end of her symptoms and his announcement to her family that she had completely recovered came exactly seven days after grandfather had started them all on Madame Wilhelmina’s mystic treatment.

Guess which one got the credit? And who wound up on the family payroll as “spiritual advisor?”

Aldous himself was not happy about it, but probably because he had finally consulted with professionals like Dr. Richter, and realized how wrong he had been. But try telling grandpa that. He had privately confronted Wilhelmina and accused her of being a fraud, but she had just laughed in his face.

“You’re not signing my checks,” she said.

“Yet,” he replied. “And hell will freeze over before I ever do.”

Ultimately, though, all that mattered to Aldous was that Anabel survived and thrived. Let the old man believe what he wanted to. Although they had both been too focused on business to think about starting a family at the time, six or seven years later, when they had both reached the ridiculously ancient age of thirty-two, it seemed like the right idea.

So, in late April that year, they went on a vacation far away from the family, taking the train to New York, then a cruise to London, a ferry to France, another train to Paris, and then a coach ride to a luxury hotel in the First Arrondissement, because of course they could.

They proceeded to lock themselves in, dine on only the best of room service — especially oysters — and then fuck like rabbits on Easter for the next three weeks. Aldous hadn’t picked Europe and was not thinking of rabbits at random, though. Here was where some scientists were working on a very experimental method to detect pregnancy early, and it happened to involve killing bunnies.

The current method prior to that innovation involved a doctor basically looking at a woman’s lady bits for color changes which may or may not indicate pregnancy, but which would also take one to two months to appear.

Meanwhile, a couple of Germans studying hormones had discovered that if they injected the urine of a woman who was likely pregnant into a group of rabbits over a series of five days and then cut the rabbits open to look at their ovaries, if any or all of them had, in fact, started to ovulate, then the woman was pregnant.

Aldous knew enough about biology and science to understand why it could work, and enough about American puritanism to understand why it wouldn’t make it over there for decades, if at all. What? Teach women more about their bodies and, god forbid, give them enough warning about an unintended pregnancy to end it before anyone else could ever know?

He wondered whether they should ever go back, although even now, in the spring of 1925, it was clear that Europe would not remain stable for long — although Anabel’s family would certainly rake in several more fortunes and their child, he hoped for a son, would go on to start his own monopoly, one that in the world of the far-off 1940s and 50s would see the world’s first billionaires.

The first positive results came through in mid-May, on the 14th, and the next four rabbits were also popping eggs. Anabel was pregnant, she and Aldous were going to be parents, and it was time to sail back home and deliver the triumphant news.

They made it back to L.A. by late June, and the rest of the year went along swimmingly, with Anabel and Aldous really becoming the center of the apparently rising Chanler-LeCard dynasty. That Christmas, grandfather made it official. The two of them were going to be his sole heirs, at least of the main companies and assets. However, everyone else would get more than enough from his personal accounts and various smaller real estate holdings that they should be happy and just shut up.

“And this is how capitalism kills us,” Aldous thought as he hugged his pregnant bride, but he smiled and said nothing.

And then early one morning on Groundhog Day in 1926, Anabel went into labor and they all rushed to the hospital — which happened to be the Chanler Family Medical Institute — and as things progressed, they seemed to become more and more dire for Anabel. Her blood pressure dropped, she wasn’t dilating, her lips started to turn blue, and her doctors put the word out to the family.

“We may have to decide whether to save the mother or the baby,” they said.

Grandfather, Aldous, Anabel’s sisters, the cousins and aunts and uncles sat in silence until grandfather stood and glared at Aldous.

“This is your fault,” he suddenly shouted.

“Sorry, what?” Aldous replied.

“You and your modern science death cult ways — ”

“Again, sorry, what, old man? I seem to remember my ways saving her from the Spanish flu.”

“Do you?” grandfather bellowed, gesturing. Madame Wilhelmina swept in, glaring at Aldous.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Saving your child,” she spat at him.

“You are nothing but a fraud,” Aldous replied.

“Enough!” grandfather shouted.

“You saved nothing, old woman!” Aldous shouted.

“Shall we make a deal, then?” Madame Wilhelmina replied.

“No, but try me.”

“All right,” she said. “I will save your wife, and you will save your son.”

“And then?” Aldous asked.

“You get to keep the one you love more.”

“I chose the one who is still alive, then,” he said.

“So be it,” she replied. “Deal?”

“Deal,” he spat back at her.

She turned to the family members in the lobby and exhorted them. “Most of you remember how we saved her before. We need to do it again. Do you remember?”

“We have to remember,” a lot of them muttered.

“Exactly,” she smiled, and then started them in a chant. Meanwhile, Aldous went to the OR room doors and signaled. A doctor in scrubs came out, dropping his mask. “You can’t come in,” he said, “But are you the father?”

“Yes,” Aldous said. “So, what’s the situation?”

“We have about four minutes to save your child, but only via C-section. I’m sorry, but your wife… she’s already… I mean, there’s nothing we can do.”

“I understand,” Aldous said. “Save the baby no matter what you have to do.”

“Thank you,” the doctor said, pulling his mask back on and vanishing beyond the doors. Aldous came back out to the waiting room, took one look at his relatives chanting like useless assholes and all he could do was laugh.

He announced quietly, but was sure that none of them heard him or cared. “I saved my son, you morons. My wife is dead.”

Later that day, Aldous would leave the place with his son Preston, never to have anything to do with his wife’s family ever again. Fortunately, they had left him with one autonomous company that would leave them well off. Even more fortunately, it had nothing to do with weapons or war or any of that crap. It had been a hand-off because a company creating art and architecture didn’t interest them at all.

What he never knew was that Madame Wilhelmina had done such a snow-job on the family and had managed to be half right that Anabel would keep on haunting his world, even long after he and his own son had died.

Papaw Winnie, meanwhile, died that August, and hadn’t yet gotten about to changing his original will, so Aldous and Preston wound up with almost everything, anyway. When the rest of the family tried to contest it, he just told them, “Why don’t you have that fraudulent medium of yours pray for it to happen?”

Anabel had been very proud of Aldous that day, although she couldn’t tell him. She also couldn’t tell him that Wilhelmina’s tricks had worked — sort of — although not in any way she had ever intended. But she was going to be around for a long time.

She was starting to think that this late-night meeting was going to last an eternity when, finally, the group got up, apparently said their farewells, and headed off their separate ways. She never got a good look at who the hunters were talking to — presumably, the woman she’d seen down in the station — but the men walked home and came to a high-rise condo and buzzed themselves in.

“Great,” she thought. “Elevator.” At least she could be pretty sure that they weren’t going to leave her in here, but as they passed through the open doors and went inside, everything went black.

She came too briefly to catch a glimpse of what was their headquarters, although it looked just like a normal condo, even if the décor leaned a bit toward the eclectic and nerdy side. But then one of them slipped the trap she was in into a velvet bag and everything went dark again, although she was fully aware as she sensed the bag being carried and then quickly lowered.

She bided her time. Everything was as quiet as the grave.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #26: The Rêves, Part 4

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Preston on watch

Preston had spent most of the early evening drifting around the plaza next to Universal City station, invisible except when he got bored enough to take on the guise of a pigeon and jump into one of the flocks that had gathered around an old woman who kept tossing them breadcrumbs, even after she had been told by multiple authorities to stop.

To him, the best part about that had been the weird looks the other pigeons gave him. They weren’t really intelligent enough give it any expression other than a sideways look that said, “What the fuck, dude, you ain’t no bird,” but he was pleasantly surprised that they at least acknowledged him.

When it had gotten sufficiently late, he took the stairs down to the platform and then he spotted the dudes just as they were coming off of the train. They were pretty much what Anabel had described and he popped back into his human form — naked as usual but totally invisible — and just gawked.

He gauged them both to be probably about mid- to late-30s, but Anabel hadn’t told the whole truth. Sure, she had described them as a couple of lanky steampunk nerds, which had already got Preston going, but she had omitted the two most important words.

Hot daddies.

That had been Preston’s entire stock-in-trade back in the day. His catnip, his raison d’être. His raison d’être cet. He suddenly realized that getting captured probably wouldn’t be all that bad a thing and he started to strut toward them when Anabel suddenly popped up in front of him and, unlike a lot of the stuff around here, she had the power to physically stop him in his tracks.

“Glad you made it,” she said. “Don’t get jumpy.”

“I’m supposed to let them catch me, right?”

“Yes, but… again, can you just kind of fake clothes?”

“What? None of them can see — ”

“Or at least slap down the Angel Lust?”

“The… what?”

“Goddamn, you are way too new.”

“Yeah, sorry I’m not old like you… Anabel. Rose.”

“Shut up — ”

“Catherine.”

“You shut up now!”

“Chanler — ”

“You shut your fucking whore mouth!”

“LeCard.”

Anabel looked like something had punched the wind out of her sails and every aspect of her started to go monochrome before she recovered, grabbed the air, shrieked, although no one but Preston heard it.

“Who told you that?” she demanded.

“No one,” Preston replied. “I figured it out on my own.”

“Impossible,” Anabel said. “You’re… you…. no…”

“Oh, sorry. Were you about to say that I’m too stupid?”

“You heard me.”

“Yeah. I did. Ms. LeCard. Who died in 1926. Oh. Oh my god, stupid little himbo pornstar whore gets it — somehow, you married your ass into my family, so you’ve got some goddamn connection here. What is it?”

“Who told you that?” Anabel screamed at him.

“Architecture,” he replied. “So… why should I turn myself over to become the little prisoner of those two hot daddies?”

Anabel glared at him, shot him a look like she wanted to rip his head off, and then just sighed and shook her head. “Number one, because you fucking want to, you little whore. Number two because… yeah. I guess I know what architecture didn’t tell you.”

“What?”

“That Anabel Rose Catherine Chanler LeCard had a son. Named Preston.”

“You’re… your my mother? Then why are you asking me to sacrifice my ass in the first place?” Preston shot back. He turned away but she grabbed him and dragged him to the far end of the platform.

“Not yet. Idiot,” she hissed at him. They faded into the shadows and waited. It was still a little too crowded.

She was more infuriated that he’d figured out — sort of — who she was. She knew he must have stumbled into the family mausoleum, but also knew that he never would have bothered to do it on his own. Somebody must have tipped him off, but who could have done that? And why?

At least she didn’t have to worry about him not getting captured. He was going to let his usual lusts drag him into trouble. While she’d told the truth that she was going to keep an eye on him, they really had no intentions of rescuing him. They just wanted to figure out where the two hunters were going to take him and what they intended to do.

She was pretty certain that it didn’t involve any of the things that Preston was hoping that they’d do to him. Maybe she shouldn’t be so angry, though. So what if he’d learned her full name and a little truth? It’s not like he was going to be around much longer to do anything about it.

She contemplated just throwing him into the elevator and sending it all the way up. Underground, those things were fine, but once they’d risen aboveground, even a little, they were death traps to her kind.

* * *

Shadows and sparks

Joshua was the one who spotted the shadow first and he signaled. Simon. They both got up and readied their equipment, but this shadow acted differently than the other ones. When it clearly had sensed their approach, instead of pretending to be an actual shadow or trying to hide among them, it actually seemed to become darker and more defined and stopped, as if waiting for them.

It almost looked like the actual shadow of a human being cast on the wall. Joshua and Simon stopped waited.

“Well, this is new,” Simon said.

“And very disconcerting,” Joshua added.

“Excuse me — ”

They both turned at the sudden voice to see Brenda approaching them. She was dressed in civilian clothes but had a name tag and badge identifying her as a Metro employee. “Can I help you two with something down here?”

“Um… just waiting for a train,” Simon replied.

“Long wait,” she said. “Are you sure it’s a train you came down here to catch?”

“It’s not an airplane,” Joshua offered, trying to lighten the mood.

Brenda huffed, pulled out her phone and tapped, then showed them the footage of themselves from the previous week, as they tried to evade the creature on the stairs. “Look familiar?” she asked.

“That’s not us,” Joshua said.

“They have a great fashion sense, though,” Simon added.

“Cut the bullshit,” Brenda shot back. “Mind telling me what’s going on here?”

“We can’t,” Simon told her.

“Sorry, yeah, can’t,” Joshua said. “Government stuff.”

“Very classified,” Simon explained.

“The other one’s got bells on it,” Brenda said dryly.

“Are you a cop?” Simon asked.

“No,” she said.

“Oh, good. Bye!”

He grabbed Joshua’s arm and they took off running, catching Brenda off-guard. Before she could do anything, the shadow suddenly darted after them, looking exactly like a human form racing along the platform.

“Oh, hell no,” she muttered to herself as she took off in pursuit. She could see the two of them racing up the escalator even as the shadow ran up the stairs. This one was fast, too. Faster than the faceless beast from the other station. All of them were faster than Brenda, who’d been driving a desk for too long.

Then, as she was almost at the bottom of the escalator, a similar creature to the one from Hollywood and Highland passed right in front of her, looking at her briefly with its absolutely blank and indistinct fact, but it seemed to have no interest in her as it passed on and started up the steps.

Joshua and Simon made it up to the plaza, looking behind to see that it didn’t look like anyone was chasing them — but then the shadow drifted up, overtook them, stopped in front of them and, presumably, stood to face them.

“What?” Simon demanded.

The shadow flickered and became slightly less umbral. Suddenly, there was just a hint of detail, enough for them to see that this appeared to be a short, young man. He was smiling at them and holding his arms out in what was clearly an “Arrest me” gesture.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Simon said, but Joshua had already pulled out a mirror trap and opened it. Looking extremely grateful, the young man leaned forward, went into shadow form, and whooshed right into the mirror with none of the sound and fury of their previous catch.

Joshua screwed the lid on. “Well, that was easy,” he said.

“Too easy,” Simon countered. “I guess we’re walking home from here.”

“I guess,” Joshua replied before adding, “Aw, shit,” making Simon look as well. Another one of those faceless creatures was standing at the top of the stairs, just watching them.

“How the hell did it get out of the station?” Joshua asked.

“We never knew for sure that they couldn’t, just that they didn’t,” Simon explained. “Do you think it’s trying to rescue our guest?”

“You know,” Joshua said, “I think it’s time to find out what these things can do. Here.” He gave the trap to Simon and started for the creature.

“Josh — no!” Simon called out, but to no avail. Joshua was stalking right up to it.

“Hi!” he called out. “Can I help you?”

It stared at him — well, metaphorically — but didn’t move. It seemed suddenly confused, but stood its ground. As Joshua drew closer, it actually seemed to shy away a step or two, and then transformed into the form of a wolf. Well, more of a werewolf, since it was standing on two legs.

“Cute,” Joshua said. “Look, we’d really appreciate it if you’d go back into the station and to wherever you came from. Our business is with… someone who apparently wanted to come along peacefully. So go on. Run along…”

The creature didn’t move, but it did go back to its more benign hooded, faceless form. “Oh my god,” Joshua suddenly said. “You’re not trying to stop us this time, are you? Of course. Simon!”

Seeing that Joshua hadn’t been attacked at all, Simon had already been on his way over. Now he broke into a trot and joined the other two.

“So,” he said to the creature, “Do you have anything to tell us?”

The creature gestured, as if urging them to be on their way and both Simon and Joshua got the sinking feeling that it wanted to follow them home. But before they could reply, there was a sudden loud snap, and then the creature was suddenly covered in arcs of electricity, like one of those plasma lamps. It went rigid and then its form changed to that of a quite normal-looking human woman who just stood there, transfixed.

Without hesitating, Joshua grabbed one of the tools from Simon’s belt, turned it on and aimed. This was one of their more high tech devices, and the creature, whatever it was, vanished into the mouth of the device with a pop. Joshua capped it and turned it off.

With the creature gone, Brenda was visible, standing there with a taser.

“I thought you weren’t a cop,” Simon said.

“I’m not,” she replied. “But I’m also not stupid. You two want to explain?”

“I guess we should,” Simon told her. “But… unofficially, maybe?”

“Oh, by this point, it damn well better be unofficial, because I don’t want anyone at work thinking I’m crazy. Coffee?”

“Sure,” Joshua replied.

There were a lot of coffee places in the area but it was also after three in the morning, so, since Brenda had her city car parked here, they all wound up at the Denny’s a few miles north on Lankershim, a couple of blocks from the NoHo station. Not exactly super-classy, but it seemed like the appropriate place to have this conversation.

* * *

Classes in crisis

There wasn’t really an official Rêves council, but those who were Class 1 had quickly realized that they really needed to create some sort of hierarchy, and then figure out how to deal with what they had wound up with.

Class 1 and Class 3 were not the problem. The former knew who and what they were, while the latter had no idea who they really were yet, but no problem being who they thought they were. The members of Class 1 thought of them as refugees or recent immigrants, since there had been such a sudden huge increase of their numbers.

The real problem were the members of Class 2, who thought they were more important than they were, had no idea who they really were, and were just generally a pain in the ass.

Meanwhile, while Brenda was having her conversation with Simon and Joshua at Denny’s, there was a sudden emergency meeting that took place in the forecourt of the Grand Mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery — although reluctantly, because this was clearly a place where Class 2’s could try to run roughshod, so it was up to the Class 1’s to get there first, rope the Class 3’s onto their side, and proceed…

That was why the announcement didn’t go out via the underground to the Class 2’s until about an hour after the meeting really started, which was also two hours after Brenda and company had sat down at Denny’s.

By the time the Class 2s did show up, the board had already been established, and they were mostly Chinese and Hispanic. The lower board, meanwhile, had no obvious identities, but a lot of enthusiasm, and the Class 2s had little say in the matter.

The real issue was that a lot of their kind, mostly Class 2s, were being kidnapped and trapped by various rogue hunters, for unknown reasons, and the group was meeting to figure out what to do.

Richard, who was on the upper board, explained what Anabel had explained to Preston earlier. He had been a wise choice for this position because, while he shared a lot of the attributes of Class 2, he had the family connections to keep him firmly in Class 1.

“As far as we know,” he said, “There are not secuestros, kidnappings. Nobody has demanded a ransom or made any demands at all — ”

“At least not as far as we can tell,” a woman on the board named Yut Ho added. While Richard didn’t know her personally — she had died long before he was even born — he had heard her story. Her abduction led to a gunfight between two rival companies in Chinatown, inadvertently killing a white man in the crossfire. This led to the Chinese Massacre of 1871, as a group of white people, many immigrants, invade Old Chinatown and proceeded to burn, loot, and lynch.

Seventeen people were lynched, ten perpetrators were brought to trial, eight were convicted — and every one of their sentences was overturned on a technicality. He hadn’t learned that from her, though. She never talked about it.

He had learned it from an historian who had worked for the city of L.A. until his death in the early 1980s. Specifically, he specialized in Hispanic, Latin, and Chicano history and culture in the city, particularly centered around the original Pueblo downtown.

The first Chinatown in Los Angeles had started on land leased from a Mexican family that owned agricultural land around the Pueblo, and it was founded long before California even became a state, when it was still part of Mexico. Eventually, Old Chinatown would be destroyed to make room for Union Station, the fancy new train depot that connected the newly thriving entertainment capital to the rest of the country. The New Chinatown would move farther east.

Richard couldn’t help but wonder if these disappearances weren’t in a similar vein to all of those situations where a  particular racial, ethnic, or religious group would be driven off of their land in order to make room to “improv” it i.e., make it more profitable to already wealthy people.

Hell, he had lived long enough to actually see the Battle of Chavez Ravine and read about it for almost every day of his life. It lasted from when he was about five until he was fifteen, and it was the same story. Rich people decide they want a piece of land to put something on, never mind that people already live and have a community there.

Ironically, the original intent had been to build public housing in the Ravine, but once the people had been removed, the voters of Los Angeles said “No.” They didn’t want no public housing, dammit, and a newly-elected conservative mayor agreed. Hell, being anti-public housing was part of his platform.

And so, Dodger Stadium happened instead, and it housed exactly no one.

Not that the people were originally happy about that, but they failed to ultimately vote against it.

It had been thirty years since the Rêves had made their arrangement with another L.A. Mayor who was really conservative in name only, so they allowed the Metro system to be built through their territory as long as they were allowed to inhabit it and use it for their own purposes.

They even agreed to protect it from acts of terrorism, and these were the only times, short of protecting one of their own, that they would show themselves to humans. They never even pointed these instances out to the authorities. They just made sure that they didn’t happen.

Since 1993, they had averted seven would-be acts of terrorism, including bombings, mass-shootings, and one bio-chemical attack. Funny how many of the would-be terrorists flung themselves before oncoming trains once a Rêve or two made an appearance.

The discussion continued, with the Class 3s being the most gung-ho to go out and figure out what was going on, while the Class 2s were most interested in making nice with the humans.

“They’re not all bad, after all,” one of them, who had been an iconic actress until her premature death, announced in a breathy voice that was the public perception of her but not at all reality. “I mean, I liked them once. I was one!”

“We all were, Norma,” one of the board members replied with full bitchy venom. That would be Holden Sutter. Not generally known to the public at large, but a famous and larger-than-life camp figure of the late 50s and early 60s who hosted the most amazing parties up in the Hollywood Hills.

The public never knew him, but all of hidden gay Hollywood did, and so did a lot of not-hidden straight Hollywood. He could get you anything you wanted, legal or not — men, women, weed, coke, opium. He also had dirt on absolutely everyone, and referred to himself as The Bullet-Proof Bitch.

That turned out to be not so much the case when he was murdered in 1967. Officially, a couple of punks had heard about “this rich fag up in the hills,” pretended to be rent boys in order to get inside, then knocked him unconscious, tied him up, and proceeded to grab and pack anything valuable they could get their eyes on.

Holden died not from a knock on the head but because they had left him on his back, he vomited while unconscious and proceeded to aspirate and die.

But, of course, everyone in the industry, and especially in the gay demi-monde, just “knew” that Holden had been murdered by some politician he had threatened to blackmail, usually a City Council Member said to be fond of the boys, sometimes a U.S. Senator, and that the two perpetrators, who were never caught, were actually his lovers.

Of course, if anyone asked Holden now, he would just laugh. “Oh, silly twats,” he’d reply. “No. It was nothing so sordid. Daddy got greedy and hired two really hot stripper twinks to come on up and have a good time. One was both 19, the other was 16. I was 67. I came and went and then they left, but I died a very happy man.”

This story had always stuck with Richard not because it was so sordid but because it was exactly the opposite. There was no great big conspiracy anywhere — just a tale of natural human weakness, and how the Reaper is often summoned by one’s own needs.

But if there wasn’t any vast conspiracy going on, who was grabbing the Rêves, and why? And why were so many of them Class 2?

Then there was a sudden commotion as a Class 1 burst onto the scene from underground. Richard recognized her as Anabel’s great-grand-niece. He thought her name was Cyntoia, but wasn’t quite sure.

All eyes turned to her as she looked at them nervously.

“Anabel!” she announced, panicking. “Anabel. They’ve taken Anabel!”

There was an audible gasp. They’d all been wondering why she hadn’t been here because she was, in fact, head of the board and president of the council. That would explain it.

“Well fuck me sideways,” Holden muttered.

“What do we do now?” Yut Ho asked, but no one replied.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #25: The Rêves, Part 3

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Delivery

Almost a week later, after Joshua and Simon have hopped the B Line to the A line, and then taken the circuitous route to get to JPL. They never wore their hunting uniforms when they came here, but rather dressed civilian and very plainly, generally in jeans and casual button-down shirts.

Although they wore their hair a little on the longish-side to suit their work personae, they would use product to flatten it and look more clean-cut here. After all, in order to get down to Ausmann’s office, they had to clear security above ground twice, and then clear it twice more below ground, before they could bring their latest capture to Ausmann and turn it over.

The old man held the trap in his hand, turning it over and over like a giant poker chip, demanding details of the capture. They told him about chasing the shadow, how they finally lured it in, and escaped the station. He listened patiently, then gave them a jaundiced look.

“Anything else, boys?” he asked.

“Um… not really?” Simon said, Joshua nodding in agreement.

“Really?” Ausmann insisted.

“Really. Well, not really, no, not anything important to report,” Joshua insisted, Simon nodding.

“Do you really think I’m an ignorant old asshole?” Ausmann asked, not waiting for an answer as he tapped the edge of his desk a couple of times and footage appeared on the display above his desk.

It was the Hollywood and Highland Station, upper level escalators and stairs, right as Joshua and Simon were hauling ass up, pursued by the faceless thing who almost made it before fading away on top. Ausmann let it play, then tapped his desk to pause it and waited.

The silence became uncomfortable until he finally grunted, “So?”

“So…?” Simon asked.

“Any idea what the fuck that was following you?” he demanded.

“What what was?” Joshua asked, tossing on his best innocent face.

“Oh, don’t play that shit with me, you little cunts. You weren’t running up those escalators for exercise.”

“Um, no… but we knew that the last bus to get us to our car was about to pull out,” Peter offered.

“You parked one block west and one block down on Orange, you lying little assholes. Want to try again?”

“What were we supposed to do?” Joshua demanded. “That was the first time we’d seen anything like that. It’s not in the catalog or on the list, and I sure as hell didn’t think we had the tools.”

“Me neither,” Simon added.

“Anyway, it felt like it was beyond our pay-grade.”

Ausmann just stared at them for a long moment, then broke out into laughter, making them both look even more nervous. Finally, he just smiled and said, “Oh my god, you little assholes are even more suited for government work than I ever thought.”

Joshua sensed Simon tensing up for a fight on the word “assholes” and instinctively held him back. “All rightie,” he finally said. “I’m upping your pay grade and your rank, from H3 to H4, which also means you’re getting better tools. But, here’s the deal. In addition to your normal retrieval missions, if you see one of those things again, then you’re going to trap it as well. Understand?”

“Um… what are ‘those things,’ exactly?” Simon asked.

“None of your goddamn business,” Ausmann snapped. “Other than the more of them you catch along with those other things, the sooner you’re going to help me achieve our goals.”

“And the sooner we’re unemployed?” Joshua offered timidly.

“Don’t be a snarky fucking asshole like you usually are, boy. Got it?”

Joshua braced his arm across Simon’s chest and shot him a sideways look. “Sorry, boss,” Joshua explained.

“He can be snarky fucking asshole at times,” Simon spat. “But it’s what makes him good at what he does, and why I fucking love him to death. We good?”

Joshua just stared at Simon in amazement and gratitude as Ausmann turned away and stared out of his office window, finally grunting. “It all depends, boys. On your next trip down, bring me what I’ve asked for. Then I’ll let you know whether ‘we good,’ or you gone. Got it?”

Simon nodded, then Joshua dragged him out before he could say anything more.

* * *

The Chanlers

When Preston woke up later, he noticed that he was being stared at. Then again, in his sleep he had reverted to his usual naked, human form. He couldn’t help it — that’s how most people had met and remembered him. Occupational hazard.

He looked up and realized that a very large crow was perched on the sphere that held up the cenotaph above the family tomb. He smiled at the crow who peered down at him intently.

“I know you’re not what you look like,” Preston said. “And you can obviously see me.”

The crow let out a caw and hopped to the ground but, on the way, transformed into a young human male, dressed simply. Preston didn’t recognize him, but realized that they were probably about the same height, although this kid was obviously really young, and definitely Hispanic.

He had jet-black hair that came into a twist in the middle of his forehead, very 1950s-style, a smile that turned up the left side of his face while squinting his right eye, and a general demeanor that just made Preston trust him.

“I’m Richard,” the kid said.

“Preston,” Preston replied. “Nice to meet you. What brings you here?”

“A lot,” Richard explained. “You know how hard it is to get to Glendale from San Fernando via our usual methods?”

“You can do the crow thing,” Preston countered. “Why not just fly?”

“I kind of have a really big aversion to flying,” Richard said. “Don’t ask. I came here to make you change your mind.”

“About what?”

“I’d say running around with your pinga out in a cemetery, but none of the carne de prada around here can see that. What do you know about Anabel?”

“What about her?” Preston asks.

“Hm. Follow me,” Richard says, walking toward a nearby mausoleum. “How do you know her, anyway?”

“Um… we just met. You know. Like you do when you go to the same places. Hey, we just met, right?”

“True,” Richard replied, “But I was looking.”

“For me? Why?”

“Like I said. To talk you out of doing something stupid tonight in Universal City.”

“How do you know about that?” Preston demanded.

“I know a lot of things, Preston,” Richard replied. “Especially about Anabel.”

“Like what?”

Richard pointed at the mausoleum. “There. Notice anything?”

Preston studied it, not sure what Richard was getting at. Then again, Preston wasn’t really an expert in funerary architecture. But then it struck him — the building was actually huge, but there was only one name carved in the granite plinth that spanned the columns across its front.

Chanler

“Who are they?” Preston asked. “Like, Chandler the L.A. Times dude?”

“No,” Richard said. “Think Waldorf-Astoria, a bit removed.”

“Isn’t that a salad?” Preston asked. “No, wait. The Muppets, right?”

“You made it through life on your looks, didn’t you?” Richard muttered. “Anything else stand out?”

“Well… it’s big.”

“And water is wet. Big, one family, meaning…?”

“Rich as hell?”

“Yep. See any dates?” Richard pointed toward the cornerstone of the building because he was getting tired of Preston being so oblivious — although he wondered whether the boy wasn’t just acting to mess with him. Preston peered at the stone.

“Est. 1906,” he read. “So… really old, really rich. What about Anabel?”

“Okay, first of all,” Richard explained, “1906 was the first year that this place became a cemetery, meaning that the Chanlers were one of the first families to buy land in it. And look at this building. It was not expanded. This is the original, because it’s all one style. So, what does that tell you?”

“That you’re getting this information from someone else?”

“Oh, goddam right I did. That’s the first smart thing you’ve ever said today. What? Look at me. I’m a poor fucking immigrant Mexican kid who grew up with grape pickers and only got lucky because I could sing and some white asshole noticed, of course I don’t know about architecture, I was only seventeen when the plane…”

He spun away and silenced himself, confusing Preston even more. “What?” Preston asked.

“Yes, I got the information from someone else,” Richard explained calmly. “Now I’m giving it to you.” Look at the names on the vaults, and the dates, take your time, I’ll be over here.

“O… kay?” Preston replied as Richard just shrugged him off and wandered across the road to a section of more open plots. Suddenly, he was holding a guitar and started to play it, singing a song that Preston vaguely remembered hearing in some movie a long time ago.

But he did what Richard asked, looking at the vaults in the Mausoleum, which seemed to go in chronological order from top left, down each column in turn. They were stacked six high, with bronze plaques and flower vases mounted in the marble facing, and they were set four wide — two vaults, column, two more, column — before the main doors to the inner vaults.

These were crystal glass panes set in doors wrought from copper that had long since corroded to a deep green patina, three sets of two, each one with an elaborate doorknob on the left in the form of the face of a cherub, period keyhole in the door to the right. On the right side of the six sets of doors, there were another set of vaults, six by four.

So… forty-eight vaults along the front, but clearly more inside. Preston walked around the building to find that each side also contained the same number of vaults, although the only doors were on the front. The back of the building had sixty-six vaults, the extra eighteen taking up the space that would have been doors, but the names on the dates on the brass plaques stopped two rows from the top left and four columns down on the backside:

Justin David Chanler Gomez Jr.

Beloved Son, Brother, Husband, and Father

April 14, 1978 — September 23, 2013.

Preston came back to the front and peered in through the windows to see a lot more vaults inside. He still didn’t have a single clue what Richard had been trying to get him to figure out. If only he could go inside, it would be so much easier…

And then he metaphorically kicked himself. This was just a door, after all. It meant nothing to him. He passed through it and examined the arrangements inside.

Here, the internal vaults were obviously arranged around the seven feet of space each of the outer vaults intruded, and were set to create a sort of Greek cross open space of equal arms. Everything was centered around a rosette pattern set dead center, right under a domed skylight in which quartz glass depicted the signs of the Zodiac.

In the middle of that rosette, a bronze star with eight points, was an inscription:

In loving memory of Anabel Rose Catherine Chanler LeCard.

She will be forever missed, but never forgotten, that is our family’s promise.

August 1, 1893 — February 3, 1926.

Well, shit, Preston thought. She’d died on his birthday. Well, not the year, but the day. And she was a hell of a lot older than he’d ever thought, in more ways than one. And, somehow, more important to all these rich bitches than anyone else?

He ran back out of the mausoleum and to Richard.

“Dude, February 3. She died on my birthday!”

“So did I, pendejo,” Richard replied. “Anything else?”

It hit Preston in a flash, and he truly felt like a dumbfuck. “Wait… LeCard? We’re related? But… how? She’s too old to be my mother, and nobody ever mentioned anyone with that name in the family. What the fuck is going on?

“Simple, amigo. Nunca confundir casarse con cazar. En sólo una manera se puede crear familia.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Figure out who she married and why.”

“Yeah, well… shit, what time is it?”

“Five o’clock.” Richard explained, adding, “In the evening.”

“That doesn’t give me much time,” Preston replies.

“Really, dude? You and I have all the time in the world. Unfortunately, so does she.”

“But what does she want?” Preston demands. “You haven’t told me that.”

Richard shrugs. “I’m only here to put you on the path,” he says. “Not to drag you down it.”

“Oh, fuck you — ” Preston yells, but Richard has vanished before the F even begins.

* * *

Arming up

After spending most of the day pointedly ignoring potential danger, then most of the afternoon after a quick drive over to Malibu for a fabulous lunch, Joshua and Simon had spent the hours between mid-afternoon and evening just holding and fucking each other left, right, and sideways and, as they had begun the day, ignoring the clear and present danger.

Then, well after nightfall they stared into each other’s eyes, trembled in fear, then got up, got hold of themselves, and armored up in their steampunk regalia.

Although tonight’s target was also the closest to home they ever had — in fact, they were just going to walk two blocks to the NoHo Metro station and catch that train one stop south to Universal City. But despite being the closet mission, it was also the scariest, given what had happened at Hollywood and Highland.

Not to mention what Ausmann might do if they fucked this one up which, honestly, was not beyond possibility. They discussed it on the way down the elevator from their condo, both of them finally saying basically the same thing at the same time.

“We need insurance,” they said, then added, “Jinx,” and linked pinkies.

“Well, we do,” Joshua insisted. “But what?”

“Too late to worry about it now, isn’t it?” Simon replied.

“I don’t need insurance,” Joshua said. “I’ve got you.”

“Ditto,” Simon answered as the elevator doors opened in the lobby. Their appearance startled a neighbor, an older man carrying two plastic grocery bags. Simon tipped his hat to him. “Good evening,” he said as they passed and the old man dashed into the waiting car.

One thing that Joshua and Simon had agreed on long before they set out on tonight’s hunt: Since they weren’t exactly sure what Ausmann was doing to the entities they were bringing to him — and they had always seemed to be sentient entities for as long as they’d been hunting — they would give this victim the chance to argue for their freedom. Or at least explain things.

Why not? It was only fair. Right?

They passed under the three metal arches at the NoHo Metro station and down the escalator to the bank of ticket dispensers on the first landing, but skipped them since they’d loaded their TAP cards to the gills long ago, then passed their way through the turnstiles and across the short path to the second set of escalators that took them down to the platform.

As usual, there was a “dead” train on the right-hand side of the platform, and another one waiting on the left. Experienced riders could tell by the sound whether it was still waiting or about to go by the simple sound of the air conditioning. If it was going, so was the train, so time to run. If not, then there was no hurry.

This one was humming, so they hopped onto the closest car. Within a few seconds came the ding and the doors closing warning, and then the train started to pull out of the station. As usual, it took its time pulling through the crossover that would put it on the right-hand set of tracks, but once it was clear of the intricate rails and tunnels south of the station, the driver put the pedal to the floor.

This was a short hop — actually very walkable aboveground — and in about three minutes, they pulled into the Universal City Station, where they got off of the train and headed to their usual station on a bench near the middle of the platform.

At this hour, the place was nearly deserted, but not completely enough. They still had a bit of a wait.

Down the platform, Brenda was camped out on a bench, dressed in her own costume, as a homeless woman, rocking back and forth and pretending to talk to herself — although she was really talking to Rita in a sort of coded style they had pre-determined. To any outsiders, she would sound insane. To Rita, she made total sense.

Of course, every single Metro employee, cop, and driver had been informed about her presence and appearance, so that she would not be molested or arrested.

“They’re here!” she announced, trying to sound paranoid. “Right down the platform, I can see them, looking at them right now — ” She was staring at empty tracks on the other side.

“Roger,” Rita’s voice came back. “What are they doing?”

“Sitting. Sitting, just sitting, pretending they ain’t doing nothing. You see them? You see?”

“Yes,” Rita replied. “We have them on camera. We’ll let you know if they do anything.”

“Amen!” Brenda called out in their pre-arranged code for “Copy that” before she went back to her fake homeless shtick of rocking back and forth and humming “Sweet Chariot.”

Truth to tell, she was enjoying this. She had minored in drama in college, mostly because her advisor in the Urban Planning program had, well, advised her that anyone majoring in a field like that really should have some exposure to the arts, because it was a bigger part of any career than any of them would ever think.

Surprisingly, she really took to doing musicals, and her favorite roles had been as Evillene in The Wiz and Mama in Raisin!, and she had gotten rave reviews.

Still, she always resented the fact that she had been rejected out-of-hand for the role of another Mama, the prison matron Mama Morton, in the production of Chicago her senior year with the lame excuse of, “Honey, this show is set in the 1920s. Ain’t gonna be no black woman in that position then.”

Four years later, Queen Latifah won a fucking Oscar for playing the same part in the movie, and Brenda decided to give up even trying to act ever again.

Now, she felt like she was playing the role of her life. No one would appreciate her for it, although she had a feeling that it would damn near change the world.

She waited, getting occasional reports from Rita, and then Rita’s assistant who eventually took over because, obviously, bitch couldn’t be bothered to stay so late as a salaried employee. The reports mostly amounted to, “Subjects still in place, nothing happening Stand by.”

She found herself quietly humming her character’s signature song from The Wiz; “Don’t nobody bring me no bad news,” and then felt a hint of regret at playing a character that she knew that every Black person watching the show would get, but very few white people would.

She also had no idea how much later it was because she wasn’t sure whether she’d dozed off, but then heard the voice in her ear. “Action on the platform. Action on the platform.”

“Well, shit…” she thought as she turned her attention to look to her right.

* * *

Image © 2017 Jon Bastian. Content, © 2017, 2020, Jon Bastian. All rights reserved. This content cannot be copied in any form or format without express written permission of the copyright holder.

The Saturday Morning Post #11

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 11. 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. In this one, our new narrator, Edna, has an encounter with a character from Chapter 2

LOST AND FOUND

This has definitely been a very strange week of ups and downs, literally and figuratively. Last Tuesday, I saw my pet project destroyed by a natural disaster, and one that most Californians are not fully insured for. On the other hand, one of my favorite tenants was pulled out of the wreckage alive, and I hear that she’s found a new place to live down the street.

But… my building was red tagged, meaning that it’s going to be pulled, and I’ll be left with an empty lot worth far less, although I’m sure that some wealthy developer will spot it, offer to pay me less than market value, and then turn it into housing priced out of the range of most people in this neighborhood in the continuing gentrification parade.

Oh, the city has done some things to battle these evil bastards, but not enough. They’ve only managed to severely reduce and cap rents in certain parts of the city, but developers, who have always had the City Council in their back pockets, have also gotten laws passed that eliminate all rent control or caps on properties within two miles of a Metro station. Unfortunately, we are well within this distance, but I absolutely refused to raise my rents to sky-high levels.

It was so promising back during the plague days, too. Six months of no rents, no mortgages, and no property taxes. And we somehow survived it, like we’re surviving this quake. Except that after the vaccine, people went back to being their greedy, selfish selves. Well, some of them did. A lot of them got turned out of office, but their replacements… not much better.

As for this place, I’ve owned it since the early 80s. It was originally a small hotel, and the only reason it wasn’t a motel is because all of the parking was off of the alley in the back instead of in front of the rooms. The layout was a basic square with an empty middle where the swimming pool and courtyard lived. There was a small office up front, and multipurpose community room in back. When I bought it, I left the ice machines in place for that nostalgic touch, as well as the laundry rooms because they were necessary. While I had been able to convert the original 10 suites and 50 rooms into 10 two-bedrooms, 40 one-bedrooms, and 20 studios, there was no room in any of them for washing machines. Besides, back then, laundromats were plentiful and cheap and it was not considered an amenity.

I was only breaking even on this place, but that didn’t matter. It had been a good emotional investment. Besides, I had plenty of properties that did make me money. I had followed the advice I’d heard from my father constantly back in Schenectady: “Invest in real estate. It’s the one thing that never loses value because they’re not making more of it.”

Once I’d made my money, I did, but I’ll save that part for later. I mostly invested it in income properties managed by other people and kept it all at arm’s length, but then one day I found out about a place that intrigued me.

It was the Starlight Hotel in Koreatown, and I jumped on it, because the asking price was pocket change. Sure, if I did what I wanted, I’d never make money off of the property, but I made up for that by briefly going into the business of flipping houses, but only doing it in rich neighborhoods and only selling at inflated prices to assholes who had more money than they deserved.

Okay, maybe there’s a conflict there because I am raising prices in one place and not the other. Then again, nobody who isn’t filthy rich was ever going to buy a house in Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Woodland Hills, or Brentwood anyway.

I rebranded the place as the Starlight Apartments and opened it up for tenants in January 1984, but I was as selective as legally possible, looking for people who most needed cheap housing, favoring gay people, and people of color, and even senior citizens, thinking that I could give them an education in tolerance in the bargain.

I kept the rent low, and my favorite tenant, Cindy, moved in something like more than thirty years ago. Technically, she didn’t fit my original criteria at the time, but she had some medical experience as a vet tech, which could always be useful. What I was charging her for a two-bedroom was less than most of the shitholes around here were charging for studios that had shared bathrooms, no kitchens, and no parking.

I don’t believe in raising the rents here, but I’ve preferred to keep this place a word-of-mouth secret… and then, in a few minutes on a Tuesday in April, bang. Gone. And the annoying part is not the loss of property. What I regret is that this was the only property I’d ever bought in order to help out people with their rent, and I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to rebuild because that expense itself might be too much.

The Monday after the quake, I was sitting out in front of the tents we’d set up on the sidewalk, enjoying a coffee with some tenants when a young man in a suit walked up.

“Hi,” he said. “My name is Adrian. Adrian Miller. Do you know who owns this property?”

“Me. Edna,” I reply, immediately hating him. “It’s not for sale.”

“Well, it’s not in the greatest shape, either,” he says, and I wonder whether punching him in the throat would be considered a crime given the circumstances.

“It is not for sale,” I repeat emphatically.

“I know,” he replies. “But is it up for rehab?”

This catches me off guard. “Um… what do you mean?” I ask.

“Was it fully insured?”

“Not for earthquakes.”

“I see. And after the deductible and all that, are you able to finance reconstruction?”

“Hell no,” I tell him. “So, what do you want? Because if it’s to buy and gentrify the hell out of this space, you can fuck right off.”

He stares at me a beat, and then just laughs.

“Oh, Edna, gentrifying is the farthest thing from my boss’ mind.”

That catches me off guard even more — not just his statement, but the proof that he was actually paying attention to me as a human-being when I said my name.

“Okay, Adrian,” I reply. “Tell me more.”

“Great,” he says, taking the offered camp chair before launching into it. “We’ve been walking neighborhoods since the quake, seeing how we can help out, and I had a very interesting conversation with a woman who’s living at that theater center down the street. The one who was your former tenant…”

“Cindy,” I said and he nodded.

“And she told me all about what you’d done for the tenants in your building, which is exactly the kind of thing my boss wants to support.”

“Who’s your boss, Bill Gates?”

“No. He prefers to stay out of the public eye, so you’ve probably never heard of him. Toby Arnott. How many units was the place?”

“It had 70 units on three floors,” I explained.

“Hm. We could probably make the replacement bigger — ”

“Absolutely not,” I cut him off. “I’d prefer it to look as much like the original as possible.”

“I suppose that all depends on the codes,” he said. “Obviously, it will be updated to whatever is current when the contractor pulls the permits, but the outside could look like the original, I suppose.”

“So how exactly would this deal work?” I asked him. “This isn’t some sneaky way to buy my land without it looking like that, is it?”

“No. Toby has set up a foundation for earthquake recovery, so it would be a charitable project. At the end of it, you’d still own the land and the building. We’d just ask that you continue to rent it out the way you have been, and at the rates you’d been charging, with priority to any former tenants who want to return.”

“It sounds like I’m not the only one you’re doing this for.”

He just smiled. “Actually, you’re the first one we found that’s worth doing it for. Well, the first apartment. I think we’re going to be investing in that theater company, too.”

“I’d need to see a contract and have my lawyers look at it first.”

“Of course. The next step is to bring Toby down here to meet you and see the lot. I’ll research what the building did look like, too. Oh. Do you know what arrangements your tenants have made?”

“Some of them moved back home, as in out of state. Others are staying with friends and family. I got all of their new contact info first so I can get them their deposits back, and luckily I saved the hard drives with all of the tenant records on them.”

“And you?”

“For the moment, living in one of those tents over there.”

“Well, we’ll have to change that. If you can wait a couple of days, we’ll find a long-term rental we can put you up in during the reconstruction.”

“Assuming the deal happens.”

“No, we’d do that part even without the deal.” He quickly checked his phone. Ah. The boss wants me to meet up where he’s at, but we’ll both be back around soon. Do you know of any other apartments or businesses you’d suggest we stop in at?”

I mention a few — one other landlord I know also isn’t a gouger, and a couple of family-owned shops on the street. He thanks me and heads off, and I don’t know what to think about it all.

Los Angeles was such a different place when I came here. It was right after I graduated college, May, 1969. No traffic, everything was cheap, and there was a sense that the sexual and hippie revolution that had started in San Francisco a couple of years before had finally sort of made it down here. The smog was horrible, and people smoked everywhere — elevators, movie theaters, hospitals. Hell, even doctors would puff away during exams.

None of us would even think that this was abnormal until about the mid-80s.

But… what else? Oh yeah. This was the year of mainstream movies rated X. Midnight Cowboy. That one came out the same month I’d come to L.A. Of course, this was also when “adult cinemas” sprang up advertising “XXX Movies!!!” Three X’s and three exclamations must have meant that they were three times as dirty, and they were. The month after I arrived, those riots happened at that gay bar in New York, and they would wind up changing everything more than I would have ever thought, especially for me.

I was young, ambitious, and naïve, and so wound up in early July going to an “audition” in a second floor office that was above Frederick’s of Hollywood, of all places. This was a business well-known for selling sexy lingerie, although the offices above it had nothing to do with the business below it. That’s even what the receptionist told me as I signed in.

“Everyone thinks the same thing when they come in, dear, but don’t worry. The guys downstairs don’t own the businesses upstairs.”

“I guess that’s a relief,” I say as I hand her my headshot and resume, and she laughs, a little too earnestly. “Right through there… Edna,” she adds after glancing at the name on my headshot.

I enter the waiting room and it’s surreal. One side is lined with women I could swear are my duplicates — we didn’t have the word “clone” back then, but we were all clearly of a type. On the other side sat an equally similar line of young men, every one of them tall, skinny, pale, with black hair, brown eyes, high cheekbones, and hawkish noses that complimented everything about them perfectly.

I was getting a bad feeling about this, although I had no idea that I was somehow predicting a movie line that would become famous in eight years.

A woman came out of the office finally and called two of us in — “Edna Ferris, and… Stony Boon?”

Okay, I couldn’t help but think that that was a stage name. On the other hand, the guy I walked in with was easy on the eyes and introduced himself with a deep, soft voice and strong but gentle handshake. “Stony Boon,” he said, then added in a whisper, “And no. It’s not.”

We entered the inner office and the woman who called us left, closing the door. It was a small room with one desk, and a rotund, middle-aged man in clothes that were two decades too young for him, obvious toupee, and with a cigar in his mouth. Lit, of course.

Now, before Stony could tell me his real name, it was obvious that he knew something I didn’t, and was quickly flinging his clothes off, so that in about ten seconds, he was butt-ass naked and facing the director with no shame.

“Hi, Doug!” he called out, cheerily.

“Hey, Stony. Always a pleasure. Have you met…” glances at my docs, then grimaces, “Edna… honey, we’ll have to change that.”

“I did in the hall,” he says, looking at me, “But I’d like to get to know her.”

And then it all gets awkward. I don’t know where to look. I mean, okay. Stony, or whoever he really is, actually is pretty goddamn hot, although I’m doing my best to look at everything but little Stony, which ain’t that little. At the same time, I’m feeling this weird impatience from Doug, the director, while Stony just looks confused.

“Honey, did you read the sides?” Doug finally asks me.

“Oh, yeah, sure. I recognized it immediately. Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing.”

“Right, you read the text, but it’s a screenplay. Did you read the action?”

“Um… no. Sorry,” I replied. Doug sighed, but Stony jumped to my defense and I don’t know why. “She’s a stage-actress, man. Don’t blame her. The first thing stage directors tell actors is to ignore the directions.”

“Well, fuck,” Doug says. “That’s why I don’t do theater,” although he pronounces it as “Thee-uh-TAH” with contempt. “If you’d read the directions, you’d know that this is the scene where Hero and Borachio fuck.”

“I’m sorry… what?” I ask him.

“You have read the play right?” he demands.

“I’ve done it four times, and I’ve played Hero twice and, trust me, she and Borachio never… have relations. That’s the entire point of the whole play.”

“Not in my version, honey. Have you even seen Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet?”

“Of course I have,” I reply.

“And, in that one, they fuck.”

“They pretty much did in the original, too,” I tell him.

“Ooh. You’re uppity. I like it. Maybe I should consider you for my Marquis de Sade movie.”

“What?” Stony and I say in unison.

“Oh, honey, don’t you get uppity, too,” Doug says, clearly addressing Stony. “I can put you back in those Fire Island Fantasy flicks in a heartbeat.”

This seems to humble Stony a bit and I’m on the verge of walking out when Doug says, “Okay. Which Shakespeare couple — who actually fuck — would you like to play with your leading man here?”

Since I’m now convinced that this Doug guy doesn’t know Shakespeare from his own asshole, I snap back, “Kate and Petrucchio,” and he leaps out of his chair. “Brilliant!” he screams. “The Taming of the Screw! It’s perfect. Let’s see that audition…”

The Saturday Morning Post #10

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 10. 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. 

BROS IN ARMS

I am not at all afraid to admit that the earthquake scared the living shit out of me, even though I was born and raised here. But, dude, I was born in 2006. I barely remember even feeling Ridgecrest. Riverside, oh yeah, I felt it. So did Vince, my roomie in this really odd and interesting living situation we’ve found ourselves in in Koreatown, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Of course, we’re two of the lucky ones in this art collective, because at the moment, we only have two other guys sharing the room which is designed for up to eight. I’m a painter and Vince is an actor. The other two are dancers although, like us (and kind of surprising for dancers) they’re also mostly straight. For you older people, “mostly straight” means a Kinsey 1. We’ve kind of given up on the idea of 0’s and 6’s really being a thing.

But the night after the afternoon of the quake — we’re going to remember 2:30 p.m. forever — Vince and I just cannot sleep because of the jitters. Meanwhile, the other two, Edward and Steve, are out like lights. “Rafi,” Vince whispers to me in the dark, “Want to go outside and just walk around?”

“Fuck yeah,” I reply. We use the flashlights on our phones, which haven’t died yet, to find our pants, shoes, and shirts, pull them on, then head out the door, down the stairs, and outside. Needless to say, it’s still pitch black out here — no electricity. Oh, sure, there are some battery powered lanterns up and down the streets, but all of the buildings and streetlights are dark.

And we look up and then see something absolutely amazing. Stars. A ton of stars, and even the band of the Milky Way, visible above Los Angeles, something that has never happened in our lifetimes. Hell, probably in anyone’s lifetimes in big cities since Edison stole the idea for the lightbulb.

We stop in our tracks and both just gasp in amazement. Oh, I’ve seen this view a few times when my family went out to visit abuelita in rural New Mexico, but I have no idea whether Vince has, because he’s a slice of white bread and from L.A.

“You ever seen anything like this?” I ask him.

“Yeah, but not here,” he replies. “Halfway out at three in the morning on a road trip to Dallas, sophomore year.”

“Oh, right,” I say, suddenly remembering. “Why didn’t I go on that one?”

“Because you went to Barcelona, douche.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Did I mention that Vince and I had been roommates all through college? We were very close and had shared a lot. At one point, he even started dating my old girlfriend after I’d dumped her, but I never resented him for it. I was there, though, to comfort him after she dumped him. It was a totally wrong thing to say, and we only used it ironically as a way to make fun of the past, but right after she left him, and when we were pretty high, we both spontaneously said, “Bros before hoes” and then cracked the fuck up.

We said it quietly, though, lest anyone overhear it and not understand our irony.

Because, come on — what a dickish thing to even think, right?

The real version that we used sincerely, like a lot of the other guys, was, “Above all, the bros we chose.” Okay, not totally accurate, since freshman roommates were assigned at random, but after that, the ones who stuck together pretty much became family, which is what Vince and I did.

And so here we were, still sharing a room after graduation, and now sharing our fear and trying our best to help each other through it while discovering an absolutely amazing sky over L.A.

“So, what do we do now?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Just wander around, stay out from under things that might fall, and not die?”

“Sounds like a plan,” he replies. We walk down to Wilshire, then decide to turn to the right and head east, aimless. This part of Wilshire, being mostly office buildings and businesses, is emptier and quieter than our street, and there’s a strangely apocalyptic feel about it all. At least, by this point, our eyes have adjusted to the dark, so we have no problem navigating.

“You think there’s going to be another big one?” Vince asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I hope not.”

“Yeah, but you remember ten years ago.”

“Read about it,” I said. “But didn’t feel either,” I tell him.

“Yeah, but the ‘big one’ turned out to only be a foreshock for the actual big one.”

“I know. But wasn’t it also far enough away that L.A. wasn’t fucked up like it is right now?”

“Shit, Rafi,” Vince said. “How bad do you think the city is?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “But one thing comes to mind.”

“What’s that?” he asks.

I don’t know why I had this realization. Maybe it was from watching too many disaster movies, but the thing that had most struck me was how the darkness was broken in a few directions by a distant orange glow — meaning there were areas on fire. They were most noticeable to the south, northeast, and west.

“The city is burning,” I told Vince.

“How can you tell?” he asked.

“The glow,” I explained. “But at least we somehow managed to not have anything catch on fire up here.”

“You’re going to get a lot of paintings out of this, aren’t you?”

“Oh, you bet your ass,” I tell him. “Nightmares are the fuel that fires up all art.”

“Like you have to tell me that,” he says. “I’ve been people watching and stealing character traits ever since we had to evacuate.”

“Well, I suppose that ‘had to’ is kind of overstating it,” I explain. “I mean, we’re still living where we were. But that lady they brought — ”

“Oh, shit, right,” he replied. “Yeah, I was being a close-minded dick. Sorry.”

“No worries, ma dude.”

We headed a few blocks up Wilshire until we reached the Wiltern, which was dark but seemed intact, then looked at each other, not sure what to do.

“South?” he suggested and I nodded, so we turned right and walked down Western for a bit. For some weird reason, this stretch seemed to be a bit more fucked up. There was a lot of pebbled glass in the street, mostly from ground-level storefronts, and the sidewalks and road seemed more buckled. The couple of bus stop kiosks we passed looked like they had been randomly twisted by angry giants, and there were more than a couple of spots where power lines and been severed and fell into the street. Luckily, there was no power in them at the moment, and at least the streets were dry.

After a couple of blocks, we turned right again to head back home. Coming back up our street, it was all familiar because we’d done it in the afternoon, although by this point most people had gone lights out, so we walked in darkness back up until we got to Madam Alice’s place, then, using our phones again, found our way back up to our room and to our snoring roommates.

“Okay,” I said. “I still don’t feel any more like sleeping now.”

“Neither do I,” Vince said. “But… look, we’ve known each other long enough, and at this point it’s all about emotional safety. If you want… I mean, if you don’t mind… I’d have no objections to sharing a bed just so that we could both feel protected… No homo?”

The second he said it, my brain said, “Oh, fuck yeah.” I mean, come on. We’d basically been protecting each other emotionally since freshman year. And it was 2029. What was a little physical security between friends, anyway?

So about two seconds after he asked, I just blurted, “Vince, fuck yeah, Homo or not. I love you, you fucking douchebag. Under the circumstances, I think that spooning the hell out of each other is the only way to feel safe.”

He just smiled, gave me a fist bump, and quietly muttered, “Bro.”

And that’s how, way into the wee hours on the morning of Wednesday, April 18, Vince and I, in our T-shirts and boxers, climbed into the bottom bunk together and held on for dear life, and it turned out that this was also the only way either one of us could have fallen asleep after the world had fallen apart and would be able to for a long time after.

Like I said, it’s about the bros you chose. And this was the moment when I realized — and I hoped that he did — that we would kill or die for each other and love each other in the most fucking platonic way possible.

And all of this came from a natural disaster. Damn. If we made it out alive on the other side, I was already thinking of how to market and sell this insight to other Gen Z guys, although I don’t know whether the older ones could quite handle it. Maybe I should just stick to painting, but I could certainly editorialize it. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid, and nothing wrong with having a buddy help you deal with that feeling.

I was out like a light once we got all wrapped up, and we didn’t wake up until the sun was blazing in the windows.

“You okay, Rafi?” Vince whispered once he sensed me stirring, and I just grunted. “Mm-hm.”

“Me, too,” he replied. “I think we’re going to get through this.”

Neither one of us rushed to get up, but we did start to talk about the most random bullshit. The weirdest thing to me, really, was feeling his voice resonate through my chest as he talked, so that it sounded like he was talking to me and speaking in another room at the same time. It was like he was here and not here simultaneously.

We continued to talk until he suddenly stopped and giggled and I asked, “What?”

“Dude,” he said, “Your voice tickles.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you talk,” he explained, “I can feel it in my chest, like a vibration, even though I can hear you with my ears. It’s… I’m not sure how I feel about — ”

“I feel it too,” I blurt out. “And, honestly, I kind of like it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, well, your voice is deeper, maybe that makes the difference.”

“Or maybe because I’m behind you?” he suggests.

“Or maybe… we should just shut up and not over-analyze and keep each other safe from this disaster?”

There’s a long moment of silence, then I hear him sigh and it feels like he holds me tighter.

“You’re right, dude. I’d come up with something right now, but I’m not good at puns and poetry and shit.”

“When the Earth starts to quake,” I say, “Our job’s the other one safe make.”

“I like it,” Vince says.

“Yeah, despite the fucked up word order. I’m a painter, not a poet.”

“More of a poet than I am. Hey, it was kind of Shakespeare.”

There’s a sudden and slight but noticeable aftershock, during which we just wrap together tighter, laughing after it’s over.

“Feel safe?” he asks.

“Fuck yeah,” I reply.

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 #8

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 8. 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 week, we met Tycho, an assistant to a local government official who got a quick promotion due to a family emergency his former boss suffered. Along the way, he met a tailor’s assistant, Finley, and they proceeded to get friendly. Finley picks up the thread from here.

Warning: Graphic content ahead. That’s true of most of the novel, but I think this is the first chapter where it comes at the top. So to speak. So strap in. But keep in mind that this chapter in particular, as is the finale novella, is one gigantic political satire. If you’ve been reading along all the way, though, you’ve probably gotten enough hints to have figured that out by now. Enjoy!

INTO THE MATTRESS

I haven’t been plowed face down so hard for at least six months, and never in such a nice hotel by such a hot guy. And certainly not by someone so young — in fact, about three years younger than me — and never someone in such a powerful position but, to be honest, it wasn’t his money or his power that first caught my eye or kept my interest.

The first thing I notice (after that whole “God, he’s cute as fuck” thing) is that despite me being merely a tailor’s assistant while he’s getting the royal treatment — such as is given to new government employees on a certain level — whenever my boss and this guy’s assistant aren’t around, he talks to me like I’m a real person. And, besides the aforementioned cuteness, he’s also got a sort of goofy but endearing manner about him. So, what the hell. I flirt. Because I’ve got good gaydar, and he’s setting it off.

And… score. I figure out that I was right in a few sentences, and he soon tells me what hotel and room number he’s in, and I am so there.

And all of this less than a week after the city and county of Los Angeles get ripped a new one by a gigantic quake out in and named for Riverside.

It’s a week after the quake when I wake up early Tuesday morning in his (government provided) hotel room out in NoHo, his arms wrapped around me, his morning wood sandwiched in my ass-crack, and I’m trying hard as hell to remember his name, because the last thing I want is for him to think that I’m just some shallow gold-digger, because I’m not. Hey, I work for a clothing shop that does a lot of contracting for local governments, so I am really used to dealing with bureaucratic assholes, and this guy is not one of them. Not to mention that my boss is generous, our clients tip, and I’ really not hurting for money.

But, honestly, this guy is a breath of fresh air. Again, because he treated me like a human. And when I asked him if I could stay the whole night after he rocked my world and he said yes, I kind of shivered in joy, because it made me feel like he wasn’t looking at me like I was just a whore.

But Jesus Christ, what the fuck is his name? I’d give anything to remember that right now. All I can remember is that it starts with a “T,” but so many names do. Tae? Taj? Taki? Tamal? Tanner? Taylor? Ted? Terrance? Thad? Thadeus? Thagrador? Theo? Theodore? Thomas? Tim? Timothy? Titus? Tobias? Tobuscus? Toby? Tom? Tomás? Torrance? Travis? Trent? Trenton? Trey? Tripp? Tristan? Troy? Truman? Tucker? Turner? Tyler? Tyrion? Tyrone? Tyson?

Fuck!

This was as hard as I was. Still, at least he was wrapped around me at the moment, so I might have a chance to organically ask the question if I was patient. At least when I’d asked him if I could stay the night he’d said “Yes.”

Ultimately, he let me and so I just stayed there all night as I felt him gently breathing on the back of my neck — which also made me really horny before and after I slept — and then his alarm went off and he suddenly jerked and spasmed.

“Whoa, hey. Wait, hi!” he sputtered as he woke up, and I swore he got harder. “Um… stupid question time again, and sorry for this, but… what’s your name?” he asks even as we’re both trying to nonchalantly get the cork in the hole without it looking like either one of us is trying to make it happen.

“Finley Potter,” I reply, grateful that he’s given me an opening — or is close to giving it to my opening, shut up. So I ask, “And you are…?”

Thank god he doesn’t bat an eyelash at that one, or try to flaunt his degrees, and simply says, “Tycho Ford. Well, Tyty. And… I seem to be about to accidentally shove my cock up your asshole for some reason?”

This makes me laugh and remember why I like him so much, and I just reply, “Why, yes, sir. Yes it seems so. And why isn’t it up there already?”

“Because, I’m just wondering one thing…”

“Whether it’s your money that I’m into, right?”

I can feel him hesitate behind me and sigh a little before he whispers in my ear. “So… is it?”

“Fuck no, you silly insecure douche. It’s all you,” I reply, and with that he proceeds to eagerly ram it home and fuck me into the mattress again, over which I have no complaints, and when he’s made another delivery via the back door and I can’t help but mess the hotel sheets because of it, we cuddle for a while until the alarm goes off again and he apologizes.

“Sorry. Last snooze. But… same time tomorrow night?” he asks and I lean back and say, “Oh, fuck yeah.”

And we both hop on the Metro together, riding until the point when he gets off two stops before I do, and we part with a kiss, but I can’t help but think about him all day long.

Although a lot of those thoughts come back to things I don’t want to think about, like the quake. When I get to work, the OLEDs in the lobby blare the news, and it’s all Tycho, the youngest county department director ever, even if they do keep calling him “acting.” Damn if he doesn’t look sexy as hell in the footage of him leaving the county building. We sure did a good job of dressing him well — although I can’t help but think, “That hot dude’s been in me several times.”

He doesn’t comment to the reporters and I know he hasn’t done a presser yet. I have sensed a touch of anger in him about this whole thing, so I’m wondering — as his responsibilities increase, are the fucks he throws in me going to get harder and angrier?

The thought that it might makes my hands tremble as I cut fabric to patterns, although it’s a good tremble. I mean, if he wants to take out all of the tension and anger on me… I would so be there for that. Note to self: when we get home tonight, point that out. Sure, he’s younger than me, but I’ve got nothing against role-playing an Angry Daddy scenario where I’m not the daddy.

But… it’s a long day, because, apparently the big quake has also created a big government shake-up, and I don’t know whether that’s reality or a bad pun. All I do know is that we’re suddenly winding up with a lot of “acting” folk for various positions, and every single one of them who deals with the media is getting a ridiculous new wardrobe. At least we only actually tailor the clothes here, except for the rare custom job, but those are special-ordered ahead.

It’s the first time in months I’ve worked O.T., actually, so I don’t get out of there until nine p.m. — not a problem at all because more money — but I text Tycho as soon as I’m leaving.

“On my way,” I say.

“What kept you, honey?” he replies.

“Too many people needed new clothes,” I text back.

“I’m not wearing any and need you likewise soon,” he answers.

“Gonna ride the train down then I’m gonna ride you all night long,” I reply.

“As you should,” he texts back just as I’m taking my seat on the Metro.

Of course, our conversations were much more abbreviated, but I’m not one to share that in the ridiculous TXT/m o g speak, because I’m kind of owskoo, as they call it now, or “hipster” in the disdainful words of our parents. All I know is that I’m gonna get some, so I am elated for the entire B Line ride back up to the Lexen. And by “elated,” I mean hard as a fucking rock.

When I get to the hotel, the desk clerk just hands me the keycard without asking my name and gives me a wink and nod. “Go on in,” he says, and so I go up to 23 and key my way into the door to find Tycho lying face up on the bed, legs spread, arms crossed over his face, butt-ass naked, and his gorgeous golden dick standing at full attention above his more than adequate balls. I don’t have to ask. I strip on my way to the bed, kneel between his legs, and have at it.

I start bobbing up and down on it and he starts moaning and squirming, and then suddenly says, “Oh my god, Darren, that is so hot.”

I pull my mouth off his dick and look as he uncovers his face, looks down, and then smiles. “Hi, Fin,” he says. “I knew it was you. Just joking. And can I call you Fin?”

“Um, sure… But what can I call you?”

“Tyty,” he replies.

“Okay,” I tell him, “But for the moment, can I just call you ‘daddy?’”

“Ha!” He replies. “That’s not normally my thing, but whatever floats your boat.”

“Wait,” I ask. “Are you a bottom for daddies?”

He laughs. “No, dude. I’m into topping the hell out of them. And you’d be surprised how often that works out.”

“Really?” I reply. “Whoa… Then again, I am older than you. Technically, a baby daddy, so…” I give the tip of his dick a lick, but I think what I’d said had already raised the sails a bit higher.

“I think I told you, I thought you were younger than me,” he finally says, “But since you’re older…well, then… shit. you’re going to be coming on over a lot more often. Meanwhile… you seem to have stopped — ”

He coughs and gestures, and I don’t need another word, so dive back down and continue slurping. He’s bucking and moaning until he suddenly grabs my hair to pull me off.

“Bottoms  up,” he commands, and I don’t hesitate. I throw myself down on the bed, does a little prep work, then whispers in my ear. “Ready?”

“Oh, fuck yeah, daddy,” I reply, and then he rams it home. He seriously pounds me into the mattress. Hell, if this one is memory foam, it’s going to have stories to tell for centuries. Although it’s not. It’s just a hotel mattress, but something about lying face down and taking a really hard dicking from a really hot guy just… rustles my jimmys. Well, my prostate.

As usual, right as Tyty announces what he’s about to do, I clench up tighter than a landlord on deposit refund day and quiver like the city did during the quake and then we’re both grunting and moaning incoherently until we collapse into a silent, sweaty heap.

And… scene…

Image Source: Hotel Lexen, NoHo, CA © 2020 Jon Bastian

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 #3

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 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 novela is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. One thing you did miss is that there was a major earthquake in the previous chapter. The next takes place in the aftermath.

THERE’S ALWAYS A WEI

The first thing I think of is 1994. At the time, I was living in a house in Woodland Hills, not that far from the epicenter, and it felt like someone picked the place up, dropped it, then shook it violently for a while until someone else took over and started shaking it harder. It really seemed like one earthquake on top of another. It was also long before dawn, right before 4:31 in the morning.

Today’s quake didn’t do double duty, but it certainly bounced and rolled like no one’s business. It was just past two thirty in the afternoon when it hit, and I was down in the laundry room in the basement of my place, talking to a couple of tenants, when the Earth moved.

One of them was from L.A. and instinctually ducked under a folding counter. The other was not, and turned into a statue, so I grabbed her and pulled her under the other counter. The machines danced a few inches away from the walls, plaster dust trickled from the roof, the rumbling was horrible, and the shaking was scary. The laundry room door slammed open and shut several times — proof that the old “Stand in a doorway” advice was not good. When everything finally settled, the lights had gone out. The L.A. native and I were laughing in relief, while our immigrant (from North Dakota) was crying her eyes out.

We consoled her, then grabbed the emergency flashlights that were plugged into the wall outlets. Best investment I ever made. They’re always fully charged, and when the power goes out, they turn on. Every room and hallway here had them. We made our way upstairs and to the lobby, then continued to the second floor and the dark hallway.

The only thing I could think about the whole time was whether my babies were safe. I was relieved to see that the second floor was still there. At this point, most of the doors of the occupied rooms had opened, and the residents were poking their heads out, two from each room holding flashlights. The same was probably happening downstairs in the studios.

“How are you doing, my children?” I asked, and they all eagerly answered, “All right, and you, Madam Wei?”

I swear that their enthusiasm keeps me alive. And I replied, “I’m fine, and here’s the news. No rent next month because of this disaster, but let’s put on a show!”

This was greeted with cheers and applause and genuine sounds of concern and, really, if this natural disaster seems to have done more damage than it felt like, then not only May, but June, July, August, and maybe even September might be free. And if the government doesn’t pony up… Well, I hate to charge people to learn, so let’s get back to that in six months.

The good news is that there are no injuries. Some of the dogs and all of the cats have gone into hiding, although Jun, our ten-year-old yellow Lab, is acting like we’re all playing some exciting game and she  wants in on it, and Chanming, the one-eyed, five-year-old German shepherd, is his usual stoic self about everything.

People and pack accounted for and safe, it’s time to start assessing the damage. Needless to say, anything that wasn’t nailed down is all over the place. Fortunately, I’d taken the great advice from friends to earthquake proof as much as possible, so that we didn’t have cabinets flying open or falling over, and all of the important things, like monitors, theater lights, sound and light boards, and so on were firmly nailed down, so to speak.

Our hanging lights were always triple-chained to the grids and gobos and gel frames were very securely attached to the units. Our catwalks were also anchored to the walls at both ends, unlike a lot of theaters I’d seen where they were suspended on chains and could swing freely. I could only imagine the kind of damage one of these could do to the paint and plaster if it slammed back and forth repeatedly, especially in a black box space like ours.

Alonzo, one of our chefs who had been in the middle of making lunch, confirmed that the automatic gas shutoff had done its job. Fortunately, he hadn’t been boiling or heating anything on the stove at the time, although three of the half-dozen six-foot long subs he’d been preparing to cut up and share with everyone had found their way to the floor, ingredients scattered and lost.

It’s probably about twenty minutes after the quake now, so probably about three. That gives us about four and a half hours to sunset, and close to five until the end of civil twilight, so I begin planning in my head.

While I don’t have the fondest memories of my homeland — at least, not its government — there are a few things rooted in me by my upbringing that are invaluable now. One is a sense of regimentation and focus, so the ability to know what to do and when to do it. We were also a country prone to massive earthquakes. When I was 20, a 7.8 quake destroyed the city of Tangshan, about a two hour drive west of Beijing. My university assembled a team of “volunteers,” and I’m sure you know what those quotes mean, although, honestly, most of us wanted to help anyway, because it was just in the nature of our upbringing: Your comrades need you now!

I learned more about disaster relief in the week that we were there than I ever thought I’d need to know. We set up emergency shelters, helped find survivors under the rubble, performed first aid, offered rudimentary counseling, ran our equivalent of what you’d call soup kitchens, and coordinated with various NGOs that arrived to help, as well as with the Red Army.

Ultimately, all we really wound up doing was helping the few survivors. Oddly enough, most of them were coal miners who had been underground at the time. Over a quarter million people died in that quake — possibly a lot more — and it’s called the second or third deadliest in recorded history. That’s for the planet, not for the country.

So I know my way around this stuff. The power is probably going to be out for at least three days if not more, and maybe intermittent when it comes back. There are five thirty-gallon water heaters in the building, so that would be enough drinking water for everyone for four days. We do have a pallet of bottled water in the back, so about 1,200 bottles, which is good for another nine days almost. The gas won’t be back on until someone comes out to physically reset the shut-off. Food in the fridges and freezers might last for a couple of days if we’re very judicious about opening the doors. Otherwise, we’re going to be dipping into the canned good so, other than tons of tuna salad, everyone is going to be mostly a vegetarian for the next few days.

The plan pops into my head, and I explain to everyone. First order of business, go grab the surviving sandwiches in the kitchen and be done eating in fifteen minutes. Then, we’re going to hit the streets. There are 40 of us, including me but not the chefs, so we’re going to split into four groups of 10, each one going a different cardinal direction for as many blocks as they can cover in half the time until they need to be back.

Our goal is to see what’s up with the rest of the neighborhood, and help whomever we safely can, reconvening here by 7:15 p.m., at which point the chefs, who’ve been guarding the fort, will see what kind of dinner they can whip up for us. At 7:45, we’re going to take our generator and lights out into the street, and perform for the neighbors — mostly some improv, with musical acts, and whatever choreo or scenes people are working on.

I explain my reasoning behind this, which my kids get instantly. “We are doing this to keep everyone’s morale up during these dark days, and we are going to do it every night until the power and some sense of normal comes back.”

That got enthusiastic applause.

When we all emerge into the surprisingly harsh daylight, it’s clear that things are not normal. We can hear car alarms and distant sirens, and smell smoke in the air. People are standing all up and down the block looking bewildered, and several buildings to our south have lost their façades or collapsed into the street. I’m amazed that our building looks so undamaged. Then again, it’s retrofitted many times over the year. That’s one of the reasons I bought it.

I remember a moment after the 1994 quake when I’d stepped outside and started chatting with a neighbor, and he told me, “Yep. The only time people in L.A. meet their neighbors is right after a disaster,” and he was right. I’d never seen half of these people before, but as my team headed south and started talking, I realized how many small business owners were in this neighborhood, along with tons of renters. The really funny thing was how many of them told me, “Oh, yeah. I’ve been meaning to come see something at your place, but never found the time.”

“Well,” I told them, “The show tonight is free. Come around just after sunset.”

We came to an old brick Korean Church that had splatted into the street and, unfortunately, the quake had hit right in the middle of their afternoon service. I had flashbacks to Tangshan as I looked at the dusty red pile and spotted a few hands frozen in death above the rubble. My best guess was that there were no survivors here unless the place had a basement, so I led my group on.

Farther down was a newer apartment building that had, for want of a better term, knelt north. The area over the entrance to the garage had collapsed, so that the upper three stories were not level. Basically, the north end third floor was at the level of the south end second floor. Most of the tenants here seemed to be standing in front, but I decided to ask: “How many residents do you think there are, and is anyone obviously missing?”

There was silence and muttering, and then one woman raised her hand. “Cindy in 306,” she said. “She’s retired and kind of a shut-in, but takes care of everyone’s dogs, so she’s probably home.”

“Thanks,” I tell her. “Oh, by the way, I’m Alice.”

“Edna,” she introduces herself. “I own this place. Well… this mess, I guess.”

“Where is her apartment?” I ask.

“There,” the woman points. It’s the top right corner, the part that has dropped a story.

“So… that front corner apartment?” I ask. She nods. “Right,” I reply, then turn to Adam Melendez. He’s one of my current favorite tenants. Mostly a dancer, also a poet. He’s gayer than anything, doesn’t apologize, and is incredibly masculine. He’s also 6’5” and works out. He could probably bench press a pick-up truck. In other words, the ideal rescue team member. “Come with me. We have work to do.”

He nods and follows me without hesitation. We pass through the entrance — the glass lobby doors have been thrown off their hinges, so no need to deal with buzzers that wouldn’t work anyway, then pass into the open court and take the wobbly stairs up to the third floor. When we get there, it’s like walking down a steep hiking trail, but we take it slowly, because every step is met with a complaint from some creaky board or another. It truly feels like one wrong move will bring the whole house of cards down.

We finally get to the last door, which is marked 306, although it’s ceased functioning as a door. When the floor collapsed, everything else went wonky, so the door itself has been ejected into the hall and the jamb is a weird parallelogram. Square peg in a funky hole. We move the door out of the way and enter the apartment, only to find ourselves involuntarily skating down into the far left corner, which is where the bedroom is.

“Anybody here?” I call out.

“Help!” comes the weak voice.

I smile to Adam and he takes my arm and helps me walk down the incline and through another wrecked doorway. Once inside, we find the woman, Cindy, who is basically lying in the corner of the room which is now like the bottom of sno-cone cup, if that makes sense, and it’s clear that she can’t get out. She’s maybe in her early 60’s with long blonde hair and black polyester off-the-rack dress. No shoes, and very much an Earth-mother vibe. I can smell the ashtray from here, which is so anachronistic that it boggles my mind — I thought that everyone in L.A. quit smoking around twenty years ago.

Anyway… she looks so grateful and Adam has no problem working his way down into the corner and then picking her up like she’s nothing. She fawns over him a little bit until he tells her, “Wow, my boyfriend would love to hear that,” at which point she just beams and says, “All the best boys are gay,” and this makes me feel all the better about saving her.

We manage to get her back up the hall, down the stairs, and out the door and, again, get applause, which surprises me because, really, isn’t this what we, as humans are supposed to do? Why are you applauding things that should not be extraordinary?

All right, maybe another culture gap. But, onward, as we continue our rescue trek. I think we’ve made it about ten blocks when Janisha, whom I’ve appointed time monitor, calls it. “Halfway to sunset.” There’s a building in flames about three blocks away that I’d love to help with but, reluctantly, I accede and announce, “All right. Time to head home and pick up what we’ve missed.”

We make it back at five minutes after seven, behind one group but before the other two, which both make it back before seven fifteen. Inside, we find out that our chefs have whipped up an amazing chicken salad — five pound cans of chicken plus gallons of mayo (which does not need to be refrigerated, contrary to popular belief), — along with celery, parsley, onions, paprika, lemon juice, and tomatoes. They stuff this into a bunch of pita bread they had on hand, then side it up with coleslaw and tons of canned corn. Although the corn isn’t heated, it is buttered, thanks to the pump-jugs of the liquid stuff we put on the popcorn at our theater concessions.

After we eat, we head to the street to perform and, thanks to all four of our teams having informed everyone along the way that the show is happening, we have quite the crowd waiting as we come outside. We decide to use the sidewalk in front of the theater as our stage, and begin with a musical number, something one of our members has been working on, but which seems appropriate now, a song called, “Walls Came Down.”

Metaphorically, it’s about the end of divisions between people, but taken literally, I suppose it applies to an earthquake. Either way, though, in the wake of this quake, those walls between people have come down even as the walls of buildings have. By the time it’s over, people are crying and hugging each other and applauding. Then, we launch into the improv and get people laughing.

My one big rule when we do improv is this: “Don’t be dirty.” Maybe it’s my Chinese heritage in action, maybe not, but there’s really no need to be rude to be funny. In fact, you can be funnier when you don’t have that crutch — and tonight, my kids follow that rule right down the line, and the audience loves it. After the improv, it’s a mini dance concert, an intermission, and then some solo singers and bands. After that, there are some acting scenes, both dramatic and comedic, before another intermission and a late night improv show.

And we only have three aftershocks during the whole thing, one minor one in the middle of the first improv, which the players manage to incorporate beautifully, a slightly bigger one during the first intermission, and the third moderate one about three minutes before we end the show and invite everyone to hang out and chat. In my experience, this is unusual. We did have the one big aftershock half an hour after the first — that’s almost a guarantee — but haven’t felt much since. Then again, when you’re walking around, sometimes it’s hard to feel them.

It’s about 11:30 when we’re all done, and have told the audience to keep coming back as long as the power is out, and then we all head inside and upstairs and to bed. It’s sort of surreal watching the flashlights dance up the stairs and eventually blink out as everyone vanishes into their rooms. I’m finally left with the chefs, Alonzo and Aki, who assure me that everything will be fine. I’m not so sure, but let them retreat to their rooms, then head out into the street, where I listen to the silence, and take a deep breath of the smoke and dust and everything else noxious that this event has blown into the air.

Los Angeles is not going to be the same for a long time, but I am going to do my best to help fix it.

Photo credit: Wilshire Boulevard, Korea Town, Los Angeles, ©  2016 Jon Bastian

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…