- DIARY ENTRY September 2001:
I’m sitting alone in a damp stained bed. It’s the middle of the night, cold and noisy. This place is chaos. I arrived in LA tonight after a hot week in Arizona. It is less than three weeks after the attack on the Trade Towers. There were guns at the airport. There is an edge.
I wore my ‘Terrorism sucks’ t-shirt, fresh off the press. It drew a few smiles and comments and was a free ticket through security. Bummer if I’d been a terrorist. Anyone with an Arab name not so lucky – a long line of dark businessmen were being frisked at every metal detector. Still, it was still plainly obvious you could smuggle a weapon if you wanted. My swiss army knife unnoticed. Scissors were ok.
My flight a few hours ago was with American Airlines. I had to walk a path through bunches of flowers and cards full of shock and sorrow to book in. They are more a reference to America’s loss than the people that died. Soliders now. Semi automatic rifles. Reality check. I had felt like a spectator until now. I watched the two Arab looking men on the plane with suspicion and was embarrassed by my thought it was best to take a knife if I had to. Too much TV, too much propaganda. Ridiculous.
It’s 5.50pm when I arrive at LAX. I call the Hotel taxi for a lift. I keep calling until 9.30, amongst a constant flow of stressed flustered tourists. I notice a girl with a backpack doing the same and enquire if she is waiting for the same ride. With a Scottish accent, she acknowledges. Nice to have someone in the same situation to talk to for a while. Recently separated and seeing the world on her own. How exciting to drop everything and just go. The taxi finally arrives and we share a ride into town. I get dropped off and told to pay $20 for the ‘free’ taxi ride from the airport. I argue. Sorry no Englaise. Menace. Fine, great, whatever.
It’s past midnight. It’s Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a scary freak show.
Glaring lights. Noise. Crowds. Bag ladies. Drugged out bums and swaying homeless people. I stand out on the raving crowded street like a beacon with my fresh red backpack. At my feet is Jay Leno’s star. There’s a big glob of spit on it. I don’t know where my hotel is. Just a row of tattoo joints and sleazy souvenir stores. I get shoved by a vagrant. A guy stuffs a cheap US flag t-shirt at me. ‘Support the New York fire fighters.’ Yeah right. I see a small ‘hotel’ sign over a door and I’m up the stairs in a flash.
It isn’t the sanctuary I’d hoped for. Musty. Moth eaten. I have to step over someone lying in the hallway. Asleep I hope. Should have jumped off at the Scottish girls campground. Too late now. There is no office. Just a long corridor of stained walls and doors, some with numbers. Then someone yells at me from a side room with a strong east European accent. I walk through and yes there’s a desk of sorts and a group of people talking. Russian maybe? They all shut up when I open my mouth to say I have a reservation. Silence apart from the barking street below.
On my left is a ratty broken brown sofa. On the ratty brown sofa is a stereotype American college jock complete with blazer and bowl cut. Lying with face in the college jock’s crotch is a flaming pink haired stumpy girl in pink pyjamas. Looks like she has an ulcer. Sitting next to her is a beautiful young Nordic girl, silent, and standing in the corner is a scruffy thin unshaven guy. At the desk is a brightly dressed blonde girl. She looks at me like I just walked out of the girls toilets, but shifts and smiles a perfect LA white smile. My common sense says ‘Not safe here’ but I’ve nowhere else to go. ‘I have a reservation for the next week’. I just get the sentence out and the pink girl blurts in a thick Italian accent
‘How old are you!?’.
I pause. ’29’
‘What month were you born’
‘I’m 29 too! I’m younger though’
A pause. I smile uncomfortably. She smiles a crooked evil grin.
‘Don’t worry about her’ the American jock says. He isn’t an American jock. Dutch I think.
‘Ah, how many nights are you reserved for’ – the blonde behind the desk breaks in. She talks in a seductive slow Russian accent like she just walked out of a Bond movie. No really, I thought Russian women only talked like that in movies. She’s stunning. I think I see foam at the corner of Pinkies mouth.
‘4 nights’ I say regretfully. ‘Private room?’. The online site said the hostel had mainly bunk rooms with a few private rooms. So glad I booked one now. There is a gasp around the room.
‘Private room??’ the scruffy guy says. Another Russian.
‘What? Are you thinking you are getting a woman??’ Pinky spits. She scares the hell out of me.
‘No, I just like my sleep’ I say apologetically. She buries her head in Not-a-jock’s crutch in mock shyness, then eyes me. ‘Put him in my room!’ This should be an ego boost but it’s quite terrifying. By the oblivious expressions around me though, it’s normal.
‘Can I have.. money please’ the Bond girl drawls. The accent seems so… Hollywood. And now I feel like I’m walking into a trap, but it’s this or the street.
‘Is Visa ok?’
The group exchange incredulous glances. Scruffy eyes me again. ‘What?? You don’t have cash?’ (What, so you can steal it?)
‘No, but I can get cash tomorrow?’ I glance around, not sure who I should be talking to.
Bond girl is the unfazed professional. ‘Visa is fine’. How normal she seems. Something’s not right.
‘I am no good tonight because I have a cold but tomorrow you sleep with me.’ Pinkie again breaks the flow. I’m starting to adjust. Not-a-Jock laughs stiffly, then assesses me. Jealous?
Reluctantly I give Bond girl my visa and watch intently to make sure no extra charges are rung up. But unnervingly, she dials the phone and gives my card number and personal details to someone in heavy Russian. The group stares. This is bad.
‘Noo Seelander… I do not know any’ Scruffy says.
‘Is like Australian’ Bond girl says mid phone call.
Pinkie continues to drill me about where I’ve been and when I leave.
Then they discuss in hushed tones which room I should get, giving me the impression some of the bodies may not have been removed yet. I get a key.
‘You sign receipt … tomorrow ok?’
‘Sure’. I’m already backing out of the room.
‘I am room 42.’ Pinkie yells after me. Strangely I’m just down a few doors.
‘Good luck’ Not-a-Jock calls.
Up another flight of stairs I fumble with the door. A dazed looking girl shuffles past, eyes me, stops, introduces herself and asks my name. She takes my hand with a dipped smile and a curtsy. ‘Nice to meet you’. What aftershave did I put on? I slip inside and fling the door closed. Door locked. I find the pull light.
It’s a strange sensation. It’s the hotel room in all those old detective movies. The one they inspect. The crime scene. Minus the jazz, cigar smoke and voiceover. The police siren is there though.
Dirty brick walls. A coin locker, a barred window with wrecked venetian blinds, a space like a cupboard with one broken clothes hanger, a small tin bin, and a mangled double bed, springs shot from years of abuse. There’s a faint smell of puke. The notice on the door says ‘Lock your belongings’. The notice on the window stays ‘Throwing objects is against Hostel rules, instant ejection, no refund’. There are a lot of no refund signs. I’m not sure if the linen is brown and clean, or brown and dirty, the light is so dim. My stomach is sure it’s hungry. It’s a tough decision to head out again for something to eat. I take a breath and head down onto the street.
Don’t make eye contact. Keep your head down. It’s like every person that never made it in Hollywood came here and went mad. I take a glance up and see great lights shining into the sky as seen in the 20th Century Fox intro. I’m right under the actual building I’ve seen so many times. The trumpets run through my head. But this isn’t how I pictured it. I see construction works and rubbish. Everywhere. It rolls down the street amongst the vagrants. To think they’ll hold the Academy Awards straight across the road in a couple of months.
An Oasis. The Golden Arches loom a block away. I speed walk past a mumbling old lady with a blonde wig, smeared bright silent movie makeup and a trolley. So does a tall gangly guy.
‘Hey, hey man, hey, hey, hey, HEY MAN!’ I can’t avoid him and flash eye contact. He points. ‘Look! look at her man! She’s FUCKED!’ He laughs and twitches involutarily. ‘I bet she auditioned for the Wizard of Oz like 30 years ago!’. I think he’s probably right. He cackles to himself, heavily slaps the head of a beggar in a wheelchair and swaggers off. I head for the crossing. ‘Help an old negro man sir’. A sad cripple reaches out from shadow. That one shakes me. He knows I feel for the persecuted minority.
Finally I make MacDonalds and fall through the door. Just a bit of sanity. Strangely, people are sitting around. And some are lying. I see trolleys of junk. The food counter is closed and locked shut. After midnight, McDonalds becomes a homeless shelter. How caring. A dark guy sits in a cubicle rocking and counting a large number of vitamin and supplement bottles. Others are crammed into the spaces with their sleeping bags and wine, eating scraps. I leave.
Another block down, my home favourite, Burger King. Please be normal. I realise I’m doing it all wrong. Look local. Walk loose. Head up, eyebrows down, slightly manic. It works. The biggest man I have ever seen standing is wedged into the door of a bus. A couple of vagrants are pushing from behind, trying to force the obese man on, the whole vehicle rocking. The first thought that I should write this down, but I figure everyone would consider me prone to exaggeration. Burger King.
No vagrants. Filthy, but no vagrants. Eccentric people come and go. It strikes me I’m the most unusual person here. I visit the small toilet on my way out. A large toned black man is standing at the basin washing and whistling. He has no shirt on. He has no pants on. He’s washing’.
‘OH I’m sorry’ I say on my way back out.
‘Nah it’s OK man, come on in!”
I edge past him into the toilet cubicle. I realise I am not street savvy. The toilet is covered in mess and the walls are splattered with white.. stuff. I gag. Brave the black man, brave the black man. I walk crisply back to the hostel. Maybe I can switch to the Banana Bungalow in the morning. As I whizz up the stairs, Bond girl calls out nonchalantly. How did she see me coming?
‘You sign receipt now OK?’
I ask her if it’s too late to shorten my stay. It is. No refunds.
So far she is the most normal person I’ve met. After I sign my receipt, I decide maybe having a chat would bring things into perspective. She’s from Estonia. Loves Hollywood. I want to try an LA club and ask her what her favourites are. She gives me a list of all her favourite girl bars, how much she adores Swedish girls and where she picks them up. I am the least normal person here.
I retire to my concrete bunker, climb into the damp creaky bed and begin writing this madness away with this diary entry, then drift off.
At 1am there is a loud bang on the door. I open it ajar and the scruffy guy tells me a bunch of people want to meet me. Having vowed to sample the culture and being half asleep, I go. Idiot. A few steps down the hallway we enter a dark candle lit room. Seated around the walls are a collection of bizarre individuals. I’m pointed to a space. Next to Pinky…
After an hour of talking with Pinky and the others I realise how normal they are. How lonely some are, looking for meaning. LA, city of dreams. Some broken. I talk with the too young Polish girl Agnes, she’s quiet and wary. I wonder what brought her here. LA is a sea of people, a sea of culture, a sea of emotion. An incredible bizarre place. Raw and alive, overflowing with humanity and life. Amazing. I love it.