The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 3

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

TAKING HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edna: “You know, with science nowadays — ”

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

Edna turns to her and they fist bump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You think she was invited?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What a bitch,” Tony adds.

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

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

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

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 2

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

TAKING HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tlasojtlalistli. Paxia. Tlauelkaktli.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 1

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

TAKING HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it wasn’t a lie, was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

The Saturday Morning Post #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 #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 #5

ATTENTION LOYAL READERS: Stay tuned for a very special announcement in a post coming up later today. Hint: It’s contest time.

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 5. 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. 

Although it’s long, I’m going to give you this one in full because the narrator here was based on a neighbor of mine who was a really amazing woman who basically befriended the neighborhood dog-owners and got to know all of us, and then that motherfucker cancer came around and killed her way too early and way too fast. This was definitely written as a tribute to her, although I’m not always so literal with characters, and I expect to discuss that bit soon. Meanwhile, enjoy.

BORN A REFUGEE

I had been planning to retire when I turned sixty-five next January. Nineteen-sixty-five was also the year I was born, and it really was another world and time. I arrived on Earth in a small town outside of Minneapolis that had a surprisingly large Jewish population, most of which had arrived starting in the mid-1950s.

A lot of them, like my grandparents and parents, were from Northern Europe, and they did originally immigrate to Israel once it was founded as a state — May 14, 1948, a date that any Jew can tell you instantly.

Now, all of my grandparents had seen what was coming with Hitler and so had been planning to relocate to Palestine as part of one of the many aliyoth that had started happening once the pogroms got going in Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Unfortunately, they were going to delay their travel plans until 1937, because both of my bubbes were pregnant with both of my parents, and they didn’t want to risk the trip in that condition. Not to mention there was some question as to whether a child of Jewish immigrants born in Palestine at the time would essentially be a stateless person.

So they waited, and Britain, which had somehow taken on the role of Great Decider of the Fate of the Jews and Israel, suddenly banned all immigration to the area in 1936.

Oh — aliyoth is the plural of aliyah, a Hebrew term that means “going up” and which refers specifically to the return of Jews from the Diaspora to Israel. The Diaspora is the opposite of that — the events that drove the Jews out of Israel in the first place. With the article and capitalized, it refers specifically to the Jews. Not capitalized, it refers to any people being driven out of their homeland en masse. For example, there was also an Armenian diaspora.

I should mention that all four of my grandparents had been neighbors back in Munich as well as good friends. I think they had always planned to play yenta for their as yet unborn children one day, should the genders work out. Although they tended to have a lot of kids back then, so some workable combination would happen. (And, to be honest, probably at least one or two “unworkable” ones, as in homosexual. Unworkable, of course, being entirely relative.)

Once the middle East was cut off as an option, my maternal grandparents, Saul and Miriam, fled to Belgium, where they successfully dodged the Nazis. My paternal grandparents, David and Esther, wound up first in London, but the combination of realizing once the war really got going that the city was in Hitler’s crosshairs and the simmering anti-Semitism of overly Protestant Brits led them to move to Dublin. The Irish had no problem at all with Jews, because they understood very well being a persecuted religious minority themselves, having been living through it for a long time. Aforementioned Prots hated the Catholics with a passion, and the Irish had had their own diaspora of sorts in the 19th century, a huge chunk of the population fleeing to America.

My father, who had been born in London in April 1937 and named for his deceased great-grandfather, Mordecai, eventually became an Irish citizen. By the way, I always liked the nice symmetry of Esther being both the granddaughter and mother of Mordecai. It kind of makes up for the way that she ultimately was cheated out of being the hero of her own story. If you don’t get that, go read the book. It’s a ripping good yarn, as my Anglo-Irish father used to say.

My mother Rachel was born in Bruges, and her native languages were Yiddish and Flemish, although she was also fluent in Dutch and English. My father only spoke English, knew some Gaelic words, and only enough Hebrew to keep up with the prayers during things like services and sitting shiva, and the instinctive knee-bend/bow/stomp on baRUCH atah never left him. He often told me, though, “Right after I became bar mitzvah, poof. All that Hebrew went right out of my head. I could remember how to say the words, but the letters became meaningless.”

That was an odd thing to say, because all of my grandparents moved to Israel at the end of 1948, before either of my parents were bar or bat mitzvah, so technically my dad should have known Hebrew. On the other hand, the immigrant Jews so outnumbered the natives by this point that the lingua franca was probably English, most likely mixed with Yiddish and German. I never asked them about that.

Note to my goyische friends: bar and bat mitzvah refer to both the ceremony and the participant in it, so it’s completely proper to say, “my son/daughter is bar/bat mitzvah today.” This is just one of many shibboleth — a word and concept (also plural) that we invented, too — which arose out of the need for self-protection via being able to tell the difference between friend and foe.

My father often mentioned how he noticed many similarities with the differences between Catholics and Protestants. You could give yourself away as one or the other with a simple wrong choice of word in the Lord’s Prayer, just like shibboleth vs. shibboleth could give away that someone really wasn’t part of one of the tribes of Israel or Judah. Undercover Catholics, in particular, had to resist the almost automatic inclination to genuflect or look for the little dish of holy water upon entering a Protestant Church, which they were often forced to do if they wanted to “pass,” and hence survive.

I’m sorry. I tend to get nostalgic like this during traumatic times, and this last week has certainly been a doozy. I suppose I’ll fast forward, and just say that all of my grandparents happened to meet up again because Israel at the time wasn’t that big a place, and the new communities tended to cluster by home country. As their two oldest kids grew and started to mature, Saul and Miriam Geldfarb, and David and Esther Spiegel, were very happy to see that Rachel Geldfarb and Mordecai Spiegel seemed to be taking a liking to each other.

They never noticed the same between Dov Geldfarb and Solomon Spiegel, but those two wound up being my favorite gay uncles to this day, and my parents were very much the model of Reform Jews, so accepted them with open arms when they came out as a couple in the unheard of year of 1969, right after the Stonewall riots. Dov was 25 and Solomon was almost 29.

The other thing that was getting to my grandparents, around about 1953, was that, being from Northern Europe, the hot desert climate of the Middle East wasn’t really agreeing with them. Of course, they had wound up living in Eilat, a port city in the south, but one that got very hot and dry in the summer, although it really only relatively cooled down in the winter, if you considered a daytime low of 70 in the winter to be cold.

So that’s how they wound up in Minnesota. The climate there was a lot more like what they’d known back in Europe, and the place was full of immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia, a lot of them Jewish. It was like a second home.

My parents married in 1960, after they had both finished college and decided on careers. I was their third and youngest child. They were about as far from Orthodox as you could get, hence the names of my two older brothers and me — Hector, Patrick, and Cynthia — youngest and oldest derived from Greek, and the middle one a nod to my father’s time in Ireland.

Dad was a lawyer and mom had studied architecture and design, but soon learned that she had a knack for things like interior design and, in the local theater community, set design. It was this latter detail that led her to follow all kinds of artistic developments, put her on the theater map in the Twin Cities, and also made her very aware of her occupational opportunities elsewhere.

Not to mention that, unlike their parents, they had grown up mostly used to a warmer climate, and Minnesota winters were getting to them.

Mom eventually took note of the opening of a major new arts venue out in Los Angeles, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which premiered in 1964, but was going to be just one part of a three-theater complex called the Music Center.

Meanwhile, Dad had specialized in contract and intellectual property law, and my mother began the slow process that she often described to me later of “gradually convincing your father” that both of them should apply for positions in Los Angeles, and then move. The weather was better, especially in winter, but nowhere as blistering as Eilat in summer, the schools were good, real estate was cheap, and there were already thriving Jewish communities.

Three months before the rest of the Music Center opened in April, 1967, my mother had secured a job as set designer and lead decorator for Universal Studios, and my father signed up with a law firm that represented several of the major studios. I don’t remember any of this because I was barely two, but we apparently packed up, made the drive west with everything we owned after selling off everything we could replace later stuffed into one car and a rented trailer we towed behind. A large moving truck would have been problematic with five of us and the dog, Winston, not to mention a lot more expensive in terms of gas — even if it only was something like just over a quarter a gallon back then.

We wound up settling in a fairly Jewish neighborhood out in a town called Woodland Hills, on the west end of the San Fernando Valley. At the time, the attractions were large lots and houses cheap, great schools, and an easy freeway commute directly to Hollywood, downtown, and the Westside. Plus, lots of Jews.

Why and how that happened, I wasn’t sure at the time, but I learned later on that it was mostly for the nastiest of reasons — as in, if all the WASP developers of land out there let the Jews move in, they would have an easy way (via credit and employment histories and other such nonsense) of keeping the blacks out without being openly or obviously racist. Jews to the head of the line right behind the whites, “Oops, sorry. No room for you, Mr. and Mrs. Williams.”

But… they only did it way out on the edges of the city, which was where all of the scared white people who didn’t want to live near black or Mexican people had fled once segregation had been ended by the Civil Rights Act. Oddly enough, that was the year I’d been born.

There were other Jewish communities that were in more mixed areas, like the Fairfax District on the other side of the hill, but those were much older in population and architecture, with smaller houses on tinier lots, all jammed together. It was also much more Orthodox, something my parents really didn’t want to have to deal with.

It was also hard to find anything over there with the minimum three bedrooms my parents wanted — Mom and Dad in one, Hector and Jason in another, and me in my own once I stopped sleeping in a crib. Of course, their real ideal was five — one for Mom and Dad, one each for all three kids, and a guest room for visiting family.

We could find the latter in Woodland Hills and did, and it also came with a den, a huge yard, and a pool. We couldn’t find anything close in Fairfax. Not to mention that the rooms there were tiny, and obviously built during an era when things like electricity and phones were a recent novelty. The house we bought had been built in 1959, and had all of the latest modern conveniences.

The other thing was that a lot of the folk in the Fairfax community were connected with the entertainment industry from back in the 1920s and 1930s, many now retired. That era was when a lot of the film writers, producers, and talent were Jewish. Plus the majority of those Jews had come from New York and were second or third generation Americans already.

Chaplin was partly Jewish. The Marx Brothers were famously Jewish, and Al Jolson infamously so and, c’mon, Al. Did you really have to be so damn racist with that “Mammy” shit and blackface? There’s a reason that Bernard Malamud was writing about these issues in the 1970s, especially with The Tenants which, if I remember correctly from high school AP English. Taught by a very nice but obviously gay Jewish man, ended with the “hero” beating a black man to death with a baseball bat, and then the word “Mercy” repeated for half a dozen pages or so.

Yeah, extreme. But despite my people having been slaves in Egypt, for some reason some of us (i.e. the rich ones) don’t grok that, and are just as racist as the worst of the WASPS who either owned black people pre-Civil War or did everything they could to make them second class citizens post-Civil War. And still do, even though it’s fucking 2029.

Not to mention that they are not at all fond of my people (the ones with vaginas), gay people, women people, trans‑people, non-Christian people, non-wealthy people… Do I need to go on? Those were precisely the reasons that my parents didn’t want to live down there and chose the West Valley instead.

Anyway… giant bonus points in the present is that at least two decades ago, this old white bastion of bigots in the West Valley wound up flipping and becoming mostly Hispanic, and nothing could have made me happier.

But, back to the past… Aside from the racism, the big selling point was how quickly we could drive anywhere from there at the time.

And any of you who live in L.A. now are probably laughing at that, but I’m old enough to remember when you really could drive from Woodland Hills to DTLA in about half an hour at any time of the day. Any of you who don’t live in L.A., that trip for a typical nine to five job could take close to two hours either way now, and more than that if you’re foolish enough to attempt the 101 to the 405 to the 10 route.

Damn. Another flashback. How many years now has it been since SNL had a The Californians sketch? It has to be at least a decade.

When I was a kid, Woodland Hills was a lot more rural than it is now. The Southern Pacific Railroad ran right through the north end of town, behind the back walls of houses, and the term “born on the wrong side of the tracks” really was true. All of the families with money — which included mine — were well south of there. Not that I was aware of this as a kid, although I did have some friends in high school who lived up that way, and I always noticed that their houses and lots were smaller, and their parents’ cars weren’t as fancy. Often, there was only one family car, and not two or three.

The thing that might sound the weirdest to people now is that we used to play right next to the train tracks, which ran down a dirt right-of-way and had no kind of protections or restrictions at all other than crossing gates at some of the intersections. Note some. It was a thrill to just stand there and watch as the freight train thundered by, blasting its horn.

Besides the weird train thing, all the way southward down Winnetka Boulevard from the tracks, when I was in elementary school and junior high, there were still large ranch-style properties where people kept horses. Going from the intersection of Winnetka and Ventura Boulevards, where my high school (Taft) was, and then turning right and going over the hill for about a mile to De Soto to the west, almost the entire south side and most of the north side of the Boulevard remained undeveloped. What we called “Chalk Hill” was a landmark that loomed over the athletic fields at Taft, and always had a large letter “T” on its eastern face.

There were no gated communities, we played in the streets without supervision, and we all grew up fine. But then, when I was six years old — not long after my birthday, actually — everything turned upside down for the first time in my life.

February 9, 1971. Ask any old-timer like me in L.A. and they’ll instantly tell you, “Ah. Sylmar.” I suppose that this word means nothing to anyone under the age of maybe forty now, but it was the biggest quake to hit L.A. since Long Beach in 1933. The only reason I know about that one is because they kept bringing it up in news reports about Sylmar. There was one other really huge one between, in 1952 in Tehachapi, apparently, but it was far enough out that L.A. really didn’t get hit that hard — kind of like Ridgecrest in ’19.

The things I do remember are that our swimming pool wall cracked and it took months to get fixed, our cat, Peaches, ran away and we never saw her again, my brother Hector wound up having to go to therapy because of sudden night terrors — I don’t blame him at all — and the schools were shut down for a week — although I don’t think it was that big a deal for me, because I was probably in the second half of Kindergarten. Patrick seemed happy, though. Hector might have, except that he kept freaking out, especially at every aftershock, loud noise, or any creak the house made, especially after dark.

One thing I do remember vividly is one of our neighbors, Dr. Weitzman, as my parents always referred to him, standing out in the street just after dawn as everyone gathered together. He was a very tall, rather heavyset man with a full beard and payot — those curly forelocks Orthodox Jewish men have. He always wore a black velvet kippah — incongruously, although I didn’t know the word at my age, but I knew what I saw — it seemed really weird when he left home in the morning as I was going off to school, he with the kippah but also a white lab coat over his plain and very Orthodox black suit.

It seemed even weirder after the quake as he stood in the street proclaiming, “The lord is punishing Babylon with this, and Sodom and Gomorrah, which is what this city has become.”

“I don’t remember our god destroying Babylon, Reb Dr. Saul,” my father said, with only a hint of something that I was too young to read as sarcasm in that cascade of titles. “And anyway, what about that whole promise he made with Noah via the rainbow to never destroy mankind again?”

“That was before Sodom and Gomorrah,” the doctor replied. “And he didn’t destroy all of mankind with the last two.”

“No,” my father replied, “Although Lot’s daughters certainly thought so, and, well… we both know what happened then.”

I had no idea, so looked at my mother, who put her arm around me and moved me away as the argument continued.

“You argue like a Pharisee,” the doctor said. “Not a surprise, I suppose, since you’re a lawyer.”

“Ah, so you’re criticizing the Pharisees now, Saul?”

“When I see Pharisitical words and deeds, yes.”

“You know who else did that, Saul?

“No, Mordecai, I don’t. What is your point?”

“The last Jew to criticize the Pharisees so strongly was named Yeshua ben Yusuf.”

“Nuh?”

My father smiled. It was a look that I’d seen him give the couple of times I’d been brought to court to watch him argue a case, and it was the same look that he always gave right before he delivered some statement that always got a gasp from the gallery, a shocked look from the opposing attorney, and my father’s follow-up. “No further questions, your honor.”

Although I didn’t really understand the legal system or what was going on at the time, I knew enough — at least as my mother explained it to me — that “dad won that one,” and dad always won that one after he gave that particular smile.

So after he gave the doctor the smile in response to his question, he said, “By criticizing the Pharisees, you’re basically siding with Yeshua ben Yusuf, who is better known to the goyim as Jesus Christ. And how you can call yourself a rabbi and not know that is beyond me. Maybe you should just stick to being an OB/GYN, doctor, and looking up what you do know so well, but no doubt would like to get to know better if it weren’t for your wife and Hippocratic Oath.”

Gasps from the gallery on that, although I could also see smiles and smirks. I got the impression that a lot of the neighbors, Jewish or not, were not fond of the doctor. He raised his right arm and index finger, seeming about to say something even as his face turned bright red, but then he just huffed, turned away and marched to the Cadillac in his driveway.

“This is an emergency. I’m needed at the hospital,” he announced as he slammed his way into his gigantic bronze-colored land-tank, started the engine, and drove off, managing to cut it too tight and bounce his front passenger whitewall way too hard off of the curb, barely missing his stone-clad mailbox.

“So how many pap schmears is he really going to need to do today?” some woman in the crowd asked, and everyone laughed. I had no idea what she meant, except I thought it was a joke about bagels.

“Good luck with him getting there,” our next door neighbor Mr. Gordy said. “I heard that all the roads between here and the other side are out.”

“Oy. If only they could stay that way,” Mrs. Fine from across the street replied.

We eventually recovered from that quake, and things were quiet until 1994, by which point I was living in Sherman Oaks, married, and with one son. I met my husband in 1989, when I was first working as an apprentice vet tech, and we got married two years later. His name was Erick Fuentes, he was tall, dark, and sexy, and he had a very similar immigrant story to mine — displaced grandparents and parents, landed in L.A. finally, loved all animals. In fact, his mother’s parents were also displaced European Jews who were rejected by America, so they went to Mexico instead.

Our son we named following conventions from both of our cultures: Saul in honor of my now dead grandfather, Felipe for Erick’s father, and then we topped that off with the last name Spiegel-Fuentes. At his bris, we gave him the Hebrew name Chaim, which means “life.” As an added complication, our son also got a confirmation name — Miguel, for San Miguel, via his dad, who was born on September 29, St. Michael’s day — so his full name wound up being Saul Felipe Miguel Chaim Spiegel-Fuentes. After he’d read the Bible in middle school, though, he started going by Felipe. As he explained it to us a couple of weeks after his bar mitzvah, he said, “Wow. St. Paul was a real asshole. I don’t want to associate with that crap.”

And yeah, his name was a head-scratcher for the less open-minded, for sure, for a lot of people who’d encounter it, although that was what America was really all about and, after all, it was the 90s.

And then… January 17, 1994, the Northridge quake comes along, and it hits our neighborhood particularly hard, probably because we’re along the old riverbed and floodplain — yes, L.A. used to have a real river — so everything goes into liquefaction, and shit falls over.

Our building gets red-tagged even though it doesn’t seem that damaged, and so our family becomes refugees. While this didn’t happen after Sylmar, it still reminds me of my grandparents’ stories, and Erick of his. At least Saul… er, Felipe is young enough yet to not really register any of it — pretty much the same age I was when I first moved to L.A.

We move in for a time with my parents until we can find a place to relocate, although try to come to some kind of arrangement where maybe we do a month with mine, a month with Ericks’ until we get rehomed, only his parents are not offering any olive branches.

I let it go through February, March, April, half-way through May, but by this point, my parents are wondering when we’re going to move out, so I finally have to push Erick on it, at which point we wind up having one of those late night, tear-filled conversations in which truth that should have come out before winds up splashing onto the ground like the intestines of a suddenly gutted pig. In other words, not something anybody really wanted.

See, two years before I’d met Erick in 1987, when he had just graduated college, he braved up and came home from the University of Miami to introduce his parents to the love of his life, his boyfriend, Pierre Haricot, a French exchange student he’d met his sophomore year… and it did not go over well.

Well, it was the 80s, which was a much more homophobic time. You can’t even imagine what it was like. So they gave him an ultimatum. “Ditch this guy, marry a woman within three years and give us a grandkid, or we are cutting you out of the will and out of our lives forever.”

Yeah, pretty evil, right? They gave the poor kid no choice, so we wound up having a whirlwind romance, he wound up somehow managing to put a baby in me, but all along was still carrying on with Pierre. Which I actually wouldn’t have minded, except for one detail. Because of a frantic “Are you safe?” phone call to the wrong number after the quake, they quickly figured out that Erick had never broken it off with Pierre at all. Ergo, he was cut off and so was I, and being as family-oriented as I am, the idea of one set of grandparents cutting off my kid because of their ignorance infuriated me. They also weren’t too fond of the idea that I was Jewish, but I guess were willing to let it slide on account of the whole uterus deal.

I gave Erick an ultimatum myself. Either you demand that they act like real human beings, or we’re done, at least as a couple, and so are they as grandparents. He’d always have a place in Saul’s (not yet Felipe’s) life, and so would Pierre — and if Pierre’s parents wanted to step in, I’d be happy to welcome them.

It was ultimately an amicable split and Erick followed my demands right down the line. So little Saul always knew that he had mommy Cindy and daddies Erick and Pierre, and the grandparents Mordecai and Rachel from me, Robert and Jeanne via Pierre, although Robert died when Saul was only eight.

Anyway, when the divorce was final in 1995, Erick and I sold the house, split the proceeds 60/40  since I also got custody of Saul, and I also got child support (until 2011, when he turned 18) and alimony until I remarried, which I never did. I decided to downsize and moved to a two-bedroom apartment in Koreatown, a couple of blocks south of Wilshire. I got it for a ridiculously low rent then, which remained ridiculously low for the nearly 34 years I was in it, and made good money doubling as vet tech and accountant at an animal hospital within walking distance, as well as doing graphic design and the like, at first for businesses in the neighborhood and then, after 2011, for my son and his friends — although cheaply — because they were all into the arts and acting. Unfortunately, Saul… oops, by that point, Felipe, was also into… other interests, but it’s not what you’re expecting, and I’m not one to keep people in suspense.

Felipe grew up into a fine, young man who told me he was bisexual at 13, and I was fine with that, because it really represented the freedom his father never had. But then, in 2015, twenty years after my divorce and three months after I turn fifty, my world is again blown apart when I find out that my angel, my hope, my only child, Saul, is dead.

April 25, 2015 which, oddly enough, is also the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Americans remember the latter, although none will remember the former, but I do. It’s when Nepal was hit by a massive 7.8 earthquake, killing more than eight thousand people, Felipe among them. He’s only 22. He was there as an aid worker, volunteering out of the kindness of his enormous heart, and mostly to help mitigate the damage that has been done to Nepal by Chinese nationalism.

Note that part. It’s going to get ironic about fourteen years along in the narrative. Actually, come to think of it, about exactly one week shy of fourteen years, but who’s counting?

April 17, 2029. Here’s where we play catch-up. My surprisingly cheap apartment south of Wilshire, where I pay practically nothing for two bedrooms, suddenly upends on a hot afternoon that, again, blows my world apart. I wind up on my ass in a corner of my bedroom as it feels like the whole place is going to sink into the earth. Believe me, I scream, and wail, and try to climb my way out, but nothing is working.

If only I owned golf shoes, or had rock-climbing equipment. Or something. Anything. But I’m old. I’m weak. I’ve got scrawny upper-arms and my tits are getting in the way. So, what can I do besides scream?

And I do, until I’m hoarse, and I hear activity downstairs, but then nothing, so I decide that maybe it’s time to start writing the will. I pull out a lipstick, find a blank wall, and then, suddenly…

“Anybody here?” a woman’s voice calls out.

“Here!” I reply, but it feels like I’ve got no volume.

Suddenly, I see two angels making their way toward me — an older Chinese woman (who gives me mixed feelings) and a really hot, young dark-haired dude who might be Hispanic, but really reminds me of both Erick and Felipe. They make their way down the crooked floor, and then he picks my up in his arms like I’m nothing, and I am saved.

And, honestly, a little wet for the first time in decades, but don’t tell him that.

The cute dude really, really reminds me of my son, and the fact that he’s working with a Chinese woman makes me realize — “No. Don’t blame everyone, because that’s what the Nazis did.”

At least I’m  safe now from what might have been a death-trap, and I try to count how many major quakes I’ve survived, although maybe major traumas is a better measure… Three days after the quake, the Chinese woman, Wei-Tso, whom I only knew as Alice, offered me room and board in her place, the only payment being via the use of my vet tech skills because they have so many dogs and cats in the place. Job, rent, and board? Sure!

On the downside, I’d had to leave almost everything I owned behind in the building that was probably going to be demolished, but it wasn’t the first time — for me, or at least a few generations of ancestors. We knew what was important to save and carry with us, and we knew what to leave behind.

Tradition, ritual, and familial love are all portable. So are memories that live in our minds. Tangible goods, like clothes, furniture, jewelry, paintings, and so on? They are only good for being sold in order to finance the journey, as so many generations of Jews learned leading up to pogroms, purges, or worse. And the lighter your orthodoxy, the lighter your journey — only the most orthodox of Jews think that they should still dress like they live in 19th century Russia in order to “dress plainly” and blend in. Oh, sure, a lot of them do, in their simple black suits and dress shirts, kippah and payot, wigs or veils for the women in long skirts and roomy blouses, but there are still those men who insist on wearing big fur hats, long coats, and full beards that make them look like extras from a community theater version of Fiddler on the Roof. It just feels pretentious, like they’re saying, “Look at me. I’m a Jew!”

Okay, so I’ve always considered myself to be “Jew-ish.” Kind of the same way that my ex considered himself to be Catholicky. The rituals and ceremonies are great reminders and wonderful theatre, but beyond that, if they dictate your life, then you’re not really living in the modern world.

This is probably the ultimate lesson of Los Angeles. Bring the tradition, ditch the bullshit.

I’m especially reminded of this on the Sunday after the quake of ’29, which doesn’t even have a name yet, when the Red Cross sponsors a pancake breakfast with a ton of religious leaders from just about every possible denomination, who invite everyone to come and worship as they will. Or won’t. I consider them all, and then wind up heading back with my new-found theater friends, Wei-Tso, Adam, and his boyfriend Tony, to the place I’m now living, and we spend the morning having the most religious of experiences doing improv, dance, and theater. Better than any church I’ve ever been in.

And yes, I was going to retire early next year, but when communications come back  about a week and a half after the quake, along with the lights and power, I finally find one single email from my, well, I guess, former employer down the street.

“Staff are regretfully informed that due to the facility being red-tagged and uninhabitable without major renovations, the practice will be closing for the foreseeable future. All outstanding paychecks will be issued on the regular schedule on the 30th, but the offices will close and all existing patients and pets will be referred to other clinics. Dr. Caldwell will be moving on to a new practice in West Hollywood and has asked that any of you who might want to move with him text or email him. Otherwise, all of your information is safe in the cloud, and you will be contacted if the business chooses to start up again. Thank you for your understanding.”

And… that was about as impersonal as you could get. I thought about contacting Dr. Caldwell, though. He was, honestly the nicest and sweetest vet I’d ever known and, more honestly, I was always convinced that he was gay — not because of anything in his personality and mannerisms, but, one, because he was really fucking cute, and two because he showed more compassion than any of the other half dozen vets in the place. That, and all of the “scaredy-cat” dogs on our roster seemed to have absolutely no problem when he was the attending. They would just take to him like he was their… pardon the expression… daddy.

It looked like I was going to inadvertently benefit from the city, county, state, and Red Cross from having my home destroyed, not to mention the largesse from Alice, so that I was going to basically be able to finally achieve my ideal.

Lots of people and pets to look after, and talk to, and deal with. And the most amazing part of it, to me, was that it all came out of a terrible disaster. Plus… theater, art, and making stuff.

But maybe that really was in my DNA. After all, for as many generations as I could go back, one couple or another only ever met up after their parents suffered hardship. I think that it was my genetic lot in life to be an eternal refugee, but that was okay — because every next destination was always really interesting.

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.