My friend Sosa just moved into a new place where he has his own room. For the past 13 months, he’s been sleeping on a couch, and for the past 6, I’ve been telling him that he should stop sleeping on a couch. Every time I’d say, “You should get your own place,” he’d respond with this:
“I like sleeping on a couch. It gives me a sense of urgency.”
It’s 2:23 PM. I’m supposed to be at work, but I’m driving north on La Cienega Boulevard. My heart’s pounding adrenaline, and the familiar ball of nervous anxiety that’s carried me everywhere for the past year rolls around in my stomach.
I’m heading to The Comedy Store to try to get tickets to see standup’s current supreme badass, Louis CK, who’s coming by to work out his new hour. They announced the show on Twitter at 1:00, but you have to buy tickets in person, so I’m racing to get there. It’s the slowest race ever; I’m inching forward in moderate West Hollywood traffic and hitting every single red light.
I’m getting more and more anxious, texting Sosa about my slow progress as I try to weave in and out of lanes. The thing about driving in Los Angeles, no matter what lane you’re in, there’s always a sudden obstacle for you to avoid, whether it be a crackhead, an old blind dog, or an old blind crackhead walking a dog.
I see Sunset Boulevard a block ahead, so close, but I’m stuck behind a mail truck in the right lane with its hazards on.
I wish I could run for it. I wish I could leave my car here in the middle of the road, get out, and just run for it.
A few minutes later, I finally make the turn. I park at the first open meter I see. I grab my purse, pay the meter, and I start running down the sidewalk on the south side of Sunset wearing a dress and flip flops.
A scene from my life that I wrote seven years ago, when I was 23:
Rockey smiles, leans back. “You’re a romantic.”
“What? No, I’m not.” The five-year-old that takes over my body in moments of panic comes to visit. I hit the table with my fists and make some sort of gurgle-y vomiting noise that grabs the attention of the other patrons in the smoking section.
Rockey throws an ice cube at me. “Don’t you think you’re getting a little old to throw tantrums?” He picks up the check the waitress left next to him. “Admit it. You’re a romantic. You love being in love. And you know what else? I think you like those sappy chick flicks.”
“Yeah, you do. Every time we go to pick out a movie, I suggest a romantic comedy, and you’re like, ‘Shit, man. I don’t care. Get whatever you want.’” Rockey drops his voice to do impressions of me. “And you only say that because you want me to pick it.”
“Oh, come on,” I say. “Some of those are really awful.”
“Ah, but some of them you like.”
I bite my bottom lip. I can’t admit to this treachery. It’s like admitting that I turn up the radio every time I hear the song November Rain. I look around and then lean in to whisper. “Okay, I’m only gonna say this once. It’s not the movies really. I like the ‘run’ scene.”
“The run scene? What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You know, the ‘run’ scene. The scene at the end where the guy has exhausted every option to get to the girl. So what does he do? He fucking runs. His last chance, and he straight up just runs for it. On The Graduate or Manhattan, When Harry Met Sally. It’s heroic, kinda. That last attempt.”
I lean back and take another bite of my toast.
Rockey stares at me, smiles. “You’re a romantic.”
“No, I’m not,” I say. “It’s just that scene. I never want to see them get together or start making out on screen. I don’t care how it turns out – I just like to watch them run. To me, that’s how it ends. Like it’s not about the end, but about what you’d do to get there. Bullshit like that.”
It’s a Sunday night. Jonathan and I are walking up a hill to my car. (A week from now, we’ll be walking down the same hill, and he’ll fall flat on his face for no reason. It will be hilarious.)
We just tried to get on at the mic at the Store, but neither of us made the list. Jonathan is chattering excitedly – the only way he ever talks – about baristas who have a career in the coffee business. He’s one of the few people I can listen to forever and never get bored, just the right mixture of freaking weird and excited schoolboy to make him hilarious and interesting. “Just imagine, Leah,” he says, “they’re so passionate about coffee.”
“That’s cool,” I say. “They get to do what they love all day, and then they come home. And then…wait, then what do they do? I can’t imagine what it’s like to not do this every night.” I gesture behind us, back toward the club.
“They get together with their families,” he says. “Some people live their whole lives for family. They’re passionate about it. My mom’s like that.”
“Wow,” I say. “And what about us? What happened to us?”
He shrugs and laughs. “God, I don’t know, Leah.”
We get in my car to head to our next mic. On the way, he talks to me about standup, and his excitement is contagious. He’s young – I won’t say exactly how young because he gets mad at me when I do – but let’s just say he’s young enough that every time he tells one of us 30-year-old comics how old he is, you can catch a tiny hint of jealousy in our eyes.
“Man, you’re lucky,” we say. “You got to start so early. You’re gonna be so good.”
To us, any second of our lives not spent doing standup seems like a waste.
It’s November 2011. It’s dark, late evening, and I’m starting my car, getting ready to leave a coffee shop mic. I see Ryan O’Flanagan leaving the same mic, walking out the door of the coffee place.
I’ve been seeing Ryan everywhere since I moved here, and he’s fucking funny. On one occasion, he made me laugh so hard, I had to leave the room during the next comic because I was still laughing at Ryan, and it was distracting.
I try to wave at him, but he doesn’t notice me. When he gets about five steps from the door, he just starts running off into the night.
I don’t know why, but I really like that he’s running. Probably because I often find myself running places, too, and I don’t know if everybody does that. Mostly, I’m running to my car to try and get to the next open mic before I miss my spot – that may very well be why Ryan’s running.
See, sometimes, you get lucky and get on at the Improv, but then you’ve gotta hustle to make it to Angels and Kings, which isn’t that far, but you lose all the time finding a place to park. Sometimes you need to get to Silverlake before 6:30 so you can put your name in because none of the people you texted are there. Sometimes you just have to run to get onstage.
It’s an afternoon in July, and I’m walking down the sidewalk to my car. I’m about to go meet up with a guy. I start my walk at a normal pace, but by the time I see my car, I’m sprinting. I know that he’ll be there whenever I get there, and the seconds more I can spend with him by running right now don’t add up to much, but I still can’t help but want to get there faster.
This guy doesn’t love me. He doesn’t feel that excitement that I feel that makes me run toward him. My intensity of passion overwhelms him, understandably.
“There’s plenty of time,” he says. “Why do you need things to happen right now?”
“Because,” I want to say, “how do we know we have plenty of time? All we really have is this moment, this second. Right now.”
I already know what happens at the end of this particular relationship, that it’s been doomed from the start. And I know my love will eventually wear away like it always does (I tend to fall madly in love with people who don’t love me every few years).
I know things will slow down, the ball of anxiety in my stomach will loosen, and eventually I’ll just stop feeling the excitement. Because passion has a sense of urgency, and when it slows down, it dies.
But even though I know that’s the end, if the passion’s here right now, in this very moment, why would I not run? Why would I not run the moment I feel like running?
It’s 10:00 AM on a Monday in August, and I’m at work. My cell phone rings. It’s my friend Joe. I see him all the time at mics, but he normally doesn’t call me, and definitely not mid-morning. I get a feeling I know what this is about.
“Hey, Joe,” I say. “What’s up?”
“Hey,” he says. “I just wanted to call and tell you that I read your blog, and, well, are you doing okay?”
“Ha! Yeah, I’m fine,” I say. “I know. It’s really depressing.”
That’s definitely an understatement. I turned my last story in to my editor a week ago, finished writing it right at the peak of my homesick-love-lost-dramatic-ass-loneliness, and then I had a whole seven days to second guess myself about how dumb I am before they posted it this morning. I’m freaking out that everyone who reads it will think I sound like a whiney little titty baby.
“I mean, I really liked it,” Joe says, “but you seem a little, uh, sad. I just had to talk Andy off a ledge the other day, and then I read that, and I was like, ‘Oh God, not another one.’”
I laugh. “Man, thanks so much for calling and checking on me. But I promise, I’m okay.”
“Well, I just wanted to say that I know how you feel,” Joe says. “And I feel like that, too, sometimes.”
The next day, Peter, the host of the Improv mic, walks up next to me and says, “How are you doing, Leah? You doing okay?”
I’ve heard this question a lot now, so I just laugh. “Yes, thank you for asking. A lot of people have been asking me that. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
“Because I wrote that depressing thing.”
“Well, no, it’s okay. Don’t be embarrassed,” he says. “I mean, everyone feels like that sometimes.”
For the rest of the week, I have several more conversations like this, comics coming up to me to ask me how I’m doing and to tell me that they’ve felt like that, too. Fact is, it’s overwhelming how many people have come up to tell me they related to what I wrote. I suddenly realize how much of a disservice I’ve done to these people by bumming them all out with my “Wah, wah, I’m lonely” blog.
They’re lonely, too. They’re out here every night, too. And most of them ended up here, doing this for the very same reason that I did: they wanted something different out of life.
In my blog, I make L.A. seem like a place without hope, a place where no one gives a shit about anything. Really, that’s not true at all.
People in L.A. (at least the people I see everyday – the comics who are living the same life I am) definitely give a shit. The excitement here, it’s palpable. Just as much as you can actually feel the ghosts of lingering disappointment and broken dreams on Hollywood Boulevard, you can also feel the buzzing enthusiasm of the people who aren’t bitter yet, people like all these comics I respect so much, these people who, just like me, have to believe that they can get somewhere or something worthwhile if they keep pushing forward, if they straight up just run for it.
I rush into the lobby of The Comedy Store. There’s a short line of people ahead of me calmly standing, waiting patiently. How anticlimactic – running somewhere to wait in line.
I see that I’ve made it in plenty of time. I buy the tickets, and I walk leisurely back to my car, even though I should definitely hurry back to work. I work at a school, and I ducked out during an ice cream social that they were having, my boss occupied in conversation with eager parents.
When I get back, I go in the side door, and my boss is still lingering at the front. I sit down at my desk, and she breezes into our office a few minutes later. She didn’t even notice I was gone. In fact, at 4:30, she tells me I’ve worked hard today, and I can go home early, at which point I turn to the invisible camera beside me and give an over-the-top wink, like it’s a freeze frame in a corny eighties film.
Wow. I really feel like I got away with something today. And more importantly, Sosa and I get to see Louis Fucking CK tonight at The Comedy Store.
As it turns out, I definitely didn’t have to run for the tickets.
But the point is, I did.