By Leah Kayajanian –
What do you think would happen if we erased each other like in the movie Eternal Sunshine?â€ I ask, sitting shotgun in his car. Â â€œYou think weâ€™d find each other again?â€
â€œYes,â€ he says. Â â€œI think so.â€
Bouncy Ball # 9 – Brie
â€œSo have you done this before?â€ I ask, yanking a strip of packing tape across the bottom of an empty cardboard box.
â€œNo,â€ Brie says. Â â€œBut my friends have.â€ Â She points to the guys next to us, packing loaves of bread. Â â€œWhat about you?â€
â€œNope, first time.â€
Brie and I are making boxes at the LA Regional Food Bank, the two of us trying to keep up with the 20 people filling them.
I like Brie. Â Sheâ€™s helpful, and sheâ€™s almost too ready for the day. Â Her hair and makeup are perfect, and she radiates energy.
â€œI canâ€™t wait for lunch,â€ Brie says to her friends. Â â€œIâ€™m so hungry!â€ Â She turns to me. Â â€œHave you ever been to The Boiling Crab?â€
â€œYeah,â€ I say. Â â€œOnce. Â It was awesome.â€
Iâ€™d gone with him. Â It was the first time he ever ate crab, and Iâ€™d taken a picture of him wearing the bib and grinning, a claw in his hand.
â€œSo do you volunteer a lot?â€ Brie asks, snapping me back to reality.
â€œWell, not recently. Â But Iâ€™m trying something different everyday, and this is my thing for today.â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s awesome!â€ Â She rattles off a couple of websites to check out.
â€œThanks,â€ I say. Â â€œSo you do a lot of volunteering?â€
â€œWell, sometimes I volunteer with kids. Â And I also do sort of my own personal thing. Â Itâ€™s not really a big deal, but I like it.â€
“Yeah, my friends and I have these catered game nights, and every time we do, we buy a lot of food. Â Like way too much food. Â At the end of the night, we plate all the leftovers, and then we drive around and look for people on the street to give it to.â€
â€œOh, wow, thatâ€™s great!â€
â€œI like it,â€ she says. Â â€œYou know, some people donâ€™t take the food because they donâ€™t know where itâ€™s from. Â They donâ€™t know us yet, and I get that. Â But when they do take it, just…the looks on their faces. Â Theyâ€™re so grateful. Â They canâ€™t believe someone took the time out of their day to care about them.â€
Â Bouncy Ball # 10 – Kyle
Iâ€™m at the New City Church, singing along to Amazing Grace. Â People around me have their hands raised to the sky, their arms open, their chests out, pure joy and peace on their faces.
Iâ€™m jealous that they can find peace this way. Â While all these people are loving Jesus, Iâ€™m preoccupied with the pervert next to me, who keeps leaning closer into my space even though I was the only person sitting in the entire row before he stationed himself two inches from me. Â He smells like little kids – stale cookies and dirt.
In any other circumstance, Iâ€™d ask him to move over, but this guy, well, something isnâ€™t right with him. Â Possibly CP, possibly a mental disability, I donâ€™t know. Â Iâ€™d keep trying to guess, but thatâ€™s a rabbit hole I donâ€™t want to navigate. Â Either way, Iâ€™m convinced he knows exactly what heâ€™s doing right now, and he knows he can get away with it.
After his hand grazes the side of my arm for the third time, I leave the room to use the restroom, and when I get back, heâ€™s moved to another aisle pushing up against another single woman.
Her problem now.
I take my seat. Â After a few minutes, a mild-mannered man named Kyle starts his sermon. Â Heâ€™s sincere, but Iâ€™m a little disappointed heâ€™s not breaking into a sweat, yelling like Evangelical preachers in the movies.
Iâ€™ve never personally felt anything for Jesus, but not for lack of trying. Â When I lived in Oklahoma as a kid, I tried so hard to love Jesus, but it just wasnâ€™t there for me. Â I guess you really canâ€™t make your heart feel things like that. Â There are so many beautiful stories in the world, why would my soul have to choose that particular one?
Iâ€™m jotting observations in the margins of my program when Kyle says a phrase that grabs my attention: â€œthe tapestry of shalom.â€
â€œThe tapestry of shalom.â€ Â I write it down. Â Itâ€™s beautiful – the way it sounds, the way it looks.
â€œEverything is woven together in a complex and perfect way,â€ Kyle says. Â â€œIf hydrogen and oxygen didnâ€™t come together in that particular way, weâ€™d all be dead. Â Everything is interconnected, entwined with everything else.â€
Iâ€™m listening now. Â Iâ€™m not fascinated by Jesus, but I am fascinated by the idea of connections in the Universe.
â€œThis is shalom. Â There is shalom in the way God created the world. Â When people work for the community of others, there is shalom.â€
â€œWherever there are people suffering,â€ he goes on, â€œthis is the broken fabric on the tapestry of shalom, and we need to repair that tapestry, to ease the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Â In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says, â€˜Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.â€™â€
Kyleâ€™s reaching the height of his sermon: Â â€œWe need to restore the tapestry here on earth! Â We need to build the New City from Revelations here on earth! Â We need to restore the kingdom on earth and make it a place where there is no more injustice!â€
â€œAmen!â€ someone shouts.
â€œNo more racism! Â No more sexism! Â No more pollution! Â No more decay!â€
After the service is over, I wait until Kyle is alone to hand him a bouncy ball. â€œHere. Â I think the Universe wants me to give this to you.â€
â€œBut if it did exist,â€ I say. Â â€œWhat would you want heaven to be like?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ he says. Â â€œI guess just unconditional love. Â You can feel it surround you completely. Â Youâ€™re wrapped up in it, and itâ€™s just pure. Â Thatâ€™s what I think heaven is – to know what it feels like to be wrapped in pure love without any fear.â€
I smile. Â â€œI like that.â€
â€œThanks,â€ he says. Â â€œIâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll forget it.â€
â€œBut I wonâ€™t.â€
Bouncy Ball # 11 – Echo Park Lake
â€œOkay, Nghiem. Â These people right here,â€ I say, as we float over toward a couple on a nearby boat. Â â€œAsk them if thereâ€™s a good yoga studio nearby.â€
â€œMan,â€ he says. Â â€œFine.â€
Weâ€™re in a peddle boat in Echo Park Lake, and Iâ€™m maneuvering us up next to all the other boats and asking them for recommendations in the area because I think itâ€™s funny. Â My friend James Nghiem, well, he just canâ€™t leave.
We float up next to the couple. Â â€œHey,â€ James says. Â â€œDo you guys know of a good yoga studio around here?â€
â€œYes, actually,â€ the woman says. Â â€œThereâ€™s a great place in Silverlake.â€ Â She gives us the name of a studio she loves and recommends her instructor.
â€œThank you!â€ Â I turn to James. Â â€œSee, theyâ€™re nice. Â Okay, my turn. Â This couple over here. Â Smoothie place.â€
James groans. Â â€œWhy?â€
â€œBecause I think itâ€™s fun.â€ Â We pull up to a young couple. Â â€œHey, do you guys know of a smoothie place around here?â€
The girl, a pretty young redhead in a sundress, perks up. Â â€œActually, yes! Thereâ€™s a place on Sunset between I think Echo Park…is it Echo Park?â€ Â She turns to the guy sheâ€™s with, and he shrugs. Â â€œNo, between Logan and Lemoyne. Right across from the Walgreens. Â I canâ€™t remember what itâ€™s called.â€
â€œYou should get the creamsicle smoothie!â€ she shouts as we float out of earshot. Â â€œIt tastes just like a creamsicle!â€
â€œI love that they keep explaining while we slowly float away from them,â€ I say. Â â€œWeâ€™re gonna hit up that smoothie place, for sure.â€
After a while, we come across a boat with a young boy and his dad. Â â€œHey,â€ I say, steering toward them. Â â€œCan I give you guys this bouncy ball?â€
â€œSure,â€ the dad says.
He holds out his hands, and I toss the ball over. Â Itâ€™s a shitty throw. Â He reaches for it, but it plops down in the water between us.
The kid points. Â â€œLook. Â It floats.â€ Â Itâ€™s bobbing on the ripples of water.
We try to maneuver both boats to get to the ball, but every time we get close, it floats off in another direction. Â After a few minutes, I give up. Â Â â€œIâ€™m just going to leave it,â€ I say. Â â€œBut thanks for trying!â€
Father and son exchange a look. Â â€œYou want to keep trying?â€ the dad asks.
The boy nods, excited, and they steer their boat back toward the ball.
I turn around, smiling. Â â€œAll right, Nghiem. Â Letâ€™s go get that smoothie.â€
Bouncy Ball # 12 – John
Iâ€™m at the Moth Story Slam, a storytelling show where anyone can sign up to tell a five-minute story. Â Iâ€™m giving todayâ€™s bouncy ball to John because he told the best story of the night, and Iâ€™d like to commemorate it, even though itâ€™s not my story to tell.
Bouncy Ball # 13 – April
â€œI have something for you.â€ Â I say, stopping April before she leaves.
Itâ€™s Wednesday night, and Iâ€™ve just bowled a few games with a bunch of my co-workers. Â Weâ€™re having a send off party for April. Â She and I have similar positions at the school, but sheâ€™s moving on because sheâ€™s been selected for ABCâ€™s Writing Fellowship Program, her career goal of becoming a TV writer finally coming into fruition.
Itâ€™s reassuring, the fact that her hard work and dedication paid off. Â Itâ€™s inspiring, like a campaign slogan: â€œYes, it can be done.â€
I hand April a big yellow bouncy ball with a smiley face on it.
â€œThank you!â€ she says. Â â€œAnd I have something for you.â€
She opens her hand. Â Itâ€™s a small blue bouncy ball. Â With a smiley face on it.
Sheâ€™s been reading my blog.
â€œOh my God! Â Whereâ€™d you get this?â€
â€œIâ€™ve had it for years,â€ she says. Â Â Â â€œI really like what youâ€™re doing. Â I canâ€™t wait to see where it goes.â€
Bouncy Ball # 14 – Sasha
Iâ€™m in a small room in the Church of Scientology watching a 15-minute orientation video in Spanish. Â Earlier today, I took an online personality test posted on the churchâ€™s website, and I came in to get a free one-on-one consultation to go over my results. Â After a few minutes, Sasha slides the glass door open to check on me.
â€œItâ€™s in Spanish,â€ I say.
â€œOh my gosh!â€ she says. Â â€œLet me fix that for you.â€
â€œI think I pretty much get it. Â You can just play it from here.â€
â€œIâ€™m so sorry,â€ she says, fiddling with the control box on the wall. Â â€œThis is pretty new technology.â€
â€œItâ€™s cool,â€ I say. Â â€œI figured if enough time went by, Iâ€™d eventually start to understand it.â€
â€œLetâ€™s try this.â€ Â She starts the video again from the beginning. Â â€œThere we go!â€
â€œGreat, thanks.â€ Â Honestly, Iâ€™d prefer to watch it in Spanish. Â Itâ€™s nonsense to me anyway.
After the videoâ€™s over, Sasha asks me a slew of personal questions: Â When did I move to California? Â Why? Â Did I have any past religious affiliations? What do I believe in? Â What brought me here? Â What am I looking to find?
I answer her truthfully. Â â€œI just wanted to see what it was like in here. Â I like to know things, and I thought it would be an interesting experience.â€
Sasha leaves for a second and returns holding a couple sheets of paper, the results of my online personality test.
The top sheet shows a line graph. Â Itâ€™s split in half, the upper part positive (0 to 100), the lower part negative (0 to -100). Â The categories at the top are positive: â€œHappy,â€ â€œCommunication.â€ Â The ones at the bottom are negative: â€œDepressed,â€ â€œIrresponsible.â€
Sasha keeps the second piece of paper tucked carefully underneath the first like itâ€™s the final round of the World Series of Poker. Â Iâ€™m not allowed to see it.
Most of my points are in the positive, but there are two low points. One is right at zero: â€œHappy.â€ Â The other is all the way to the very bottom, lurking over the word â€œIrresponsible.â€
â€œSo do you think youâ€™re happy?â€ Sasha asks.
â€œWell, I think Iâ€™m trying to be.â€
â€œOkay,â€ she says. Â â€œDo you find that you blame something outside for your unhappiness?â€
I shrug. Â â€œI donâ€™t know. Â Maybe. Â I guess that could be true. Â But if so, itâ€™s just one thing.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s that thing?â€ she asks.
â€œA bad relationship. Â I guess I could blame that for my recent unhappiness.â€
â€œSo what happened?â€
â€œI wanted more than he could give, and then it ended badly.â€
â€œHave you talked to him about this blame?â€
â€œBecause thereâ€™s nothing else to say. Â Itâ€™s done, and it happened, and thatâ€™s that.â€
â€œHmm,â€ she says.
I point at the lowest point on my graph: â€œIrresponsible.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s this about?â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t know. Â Letâ€™s try to figure it out,â€ she says. Â â€œDoes this make sense to you?â€
â€œNo. Â Iâ€™m very responsible.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not necessarily what it means,â€ she says. Â â€œItâ€™s more about cause and effect. Â Say, for instance, someone is holding a gun on you. Â In that situation, that person is the cause, and you are the effect instead of the cause. Â Do you see what I mean?â€
â€œUmmmâ€¦.so wait, are you saying I donâ€™t actively participate in my life? Â Like you mean I donâ€™t act, but I just let things happen?â€
â€œRemember,â€ she says. Â Â â€œThis is not our assessment. Â This is based on your assessment of yourself.â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s true of me.â€
â€œHmm,â€ she says. Â â€œDo you think it might apply to another aspect of your life? Â Maybe your career isnâ€™t where you want it to be. Â You said you want to be a comedian, but youâ€™re working at this other job. Â Maybe you donâ€™t feel like youâ€™re able to put as much time into your career?â€
â€œWell, sure,â€ I say. Â â€œBut I do the best I can, and Iâ€™m making progress. Â When I decide I need to change things, I do it.â€
â€œHmm. Â Because the results of your test show something different. Â Can you think of another part of your life where youâ€™re the effect instead of the cause?â€
Iâ€™m starting to get annoyed. Â â€œNot really. Â I donâ€™t know. Â Maybe itâ€™s just about the guy again. Â Is that what you want?â€
â€œOkay, there you go!â€ Sheâ€™s excited that she got something out of me, jabbing her pen at my graph. Â â€œThatâ€™s what it is. Â See, with Scientology, you can move this up.â€ Â She draws three arrows pointing upward toward the positive side of the chart.
Oh, I see. Â Just move that line up there.
â€œLet me ask you,â€ she says. Â â€œHave you ever tried to help someone, and it didnâ€™t work?â€
â€œYes, all the time.â€
â€œCan you give me a specific example?â€
â€œOh God. Â Well,â€ I say. Â â€œI once got my friend really expensive tickets to an NFL game for his birthday, his favorite team. Â But when we drove down to the game, the traffic was so bad, we missed the entire first half. Â I got so upset that we missed it, I made the situation even worse.â€
â€œOkay,â€ she says. Â â€œAnd what does that make you feel like?â€
My eyes tear up in frustration. Â Leah, do not cry in the goddamn Scientology Center. Â I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™m more annoyed by her obvious attempts to make me feel like shit, or by myself for falling into her little therapy trap and letting her get to me.
â€œWell,â€ I say in a controlled, even tone. Â â€œIt feels like the harder I try to make things better, the worse they get.â€
Sasha stares at me for a long time, smiling like a robot.
â€œUh, are you waiting for me to say something?â€
After a few more stupid minutes, Sasha passes me off to Ron, who stares me down with his icy blue eyes while he tries to sell me a book and DVD about Dianetics. Â During the sales pitch, he points to my low score: â€œIrresponsible.â€
â€œDid this rub you the wrong way?â€ he asks.
â€œYes,â€ I say. â€œIt did.â€
â€œWell, remember, this is your assessment of yourself. Â Weâ€™re not trying to make you feel bad.â€
Â Bouncy Ball # 15 – Mario
Itâ€™s Friday, and Iâ€™m at the final Silverlake Lounge open mic.
I havenâ€™t been here in months. Â I used to go almost every Friday, but Iâ€™d stopped coming because I donâ€™t like it. Â Iâ€™m here tonight because my friend James is new in town, and he wanted to check it out.
Iâ€™m at the bar chatting with the bartender, Mario, whoâ€™s the best thing about the Silverlake Lounge. Â He takes a shot of something with me – cinnamon flavored? Â I donâ€™t know. Â When someone gives me a shot, I take it. Â I guess since Iâ€™m so irresponsible and all.
â€œMario,â€ I say, â€œI want to give you this.â€ Â I hand him a bouncy ball.
He cracks up laughing.
â€œYou gave me a bouncy ball before.â€
â€œI did? Â Was I drunk?â€
â€œYeah,â€ he says. Â â€œIt was smaller, lots of different colors. Â I still have it.â€
â€œWow, thatâ€™s crazyâ€ I say. Â â€œI donâ€™t even remember that.â€
â€œIt was a long time ago.â€
I donâ€™t know how to feel about that. Â On one hand, I like it. Â It means that at my core, I am always the same person, and that person makes the same gut decisions every time. Â Itâ€™s comforting.
But on the other hand,Â it means that at my core, I am always the same person, and that person keeps doing the same things the same way and erasing them, forgetting them, but repeating them as though theyâ€™re inevitable.