Author's Note: This is a work of R-rated literary fiction.
A movie that Laurel had worked on went to Sundance. She was still on the closing shift at Pitfire Pizza. The USC fraternities would come through and order pitchers and pizzas with their dates. Sometimes she would be scrubbing IPA out of a wooden bench and see someone from biology class. That night most of the gross chores were over, and she was folding napkins into small origami forms, nestling the silverware inside the envelopes with care, letting her spirit spiral out gently through the glass windows, above Little Tokyo, someplace far away.
Hey, space cadet, barks Ava, a burly chick with torched out hair and large biceps. Chain down the tables.
Laurel sets down the utensils silently, and walks outside to start wrestling with the porch furniture and its chains.
Like a naked fork, I wish I was enfolded, by something. The sky.
The guys pull up at midnight in a flatbed Toyota. Peter Pan’s in the driver's seat, and his father rides shotgun. A man she hasn’t met before shares the back.
Allen, she nods, and leans over the center console to throw him a fistbump. Hank, she nods to Peter Pan.
Ready? says Allen.
No. My boyfriend wants to come.
Okay. So where is the guy? I thought you were staying at the Holiday Inn with us.
No. I don’t know Allen. I guess I’m not. I’ll text him.
What’s up? They want to leave, Laurel texts Reed. She wishes they could just go. There’s undoubtedly going to be stuff to fight about. She just wants to be herself this weekend, and not have to be Reed’s girlfriend.
Reed had been doing this thing for a while where he would write insulting, humiliating song lyrics and poetry about her with his band, then post the lyrics and poetry online. Things like that her pussy was unwashed, or that their relationship was going to be over. Then Laurel would call him and say that they needed to end things. She never brought up the lyrics, just that she was unhappy and wanted to be out of the relationship. Then Reed would act like everything was fine, and they stayed shackled together. At one point Reed even made a large, plywood sculpture of Laurel’s vagina, covered it in numerous dildos, (which had to have been really expensive because they were a lot of pretty quality dildos, which Reed bought at the Pleasure Chest in Hollywood, where he would go to look at sex toys with his gay best friend Mike), and left it at the art school, where Laurel was regularly attending classes.
Obviously she was miserable at this point, and felt like she was losing the ability to function every day. She was depressed, physically weak, and Reed’s actions had made her feel revulsed by her own body, so she responded by refusing to eat, and drinking vodka with zero-calorie lemonade until her body felt like it was disappearing. She was numb, listless, and small, like a feather with no opinions, or a glass skeleton with no needs and no identity.
Reed shows up and jumps in the backseat with her.
We only got two seats back there, so you kids gotta get cozy and make it work, says Allen.
Alright, let’s cruise, she says, sinking back into Reed’s arms. City lights whorl in loopy cartwheels as they swoop over the freeway, with Salt Lake City, looming- radiant- on the mind. LA dissipates and opens. Here is the Great American Desert.
Peter Pan is chewing dip, and spitting into an empty Sonic cup.
Eyes on the road son, says Allen.
Reed puts in one earbud, and hands the other to Laurel. Some type of dreamy psych-rock lulls her to sleep, and the men descend into a meditative silence.
Peter Pan is hunky & blonde, and he drives like a cowboy surveying his land- vigilant but at ease, one arm clutching the wheel, the other draped lazily over by the window. Allen is the adult man in charge of this operation, as he always is, and he monitors the road unblinkingly, occasionally offering curt directions or guidance to Peter Pan. Allen takes no nonsense. He is a tough, smart man, who can do anything, and can teach you how to do anything. He knows what life takes, and you need to get on his level or go home.
Laurel wakes up halfway through Arizona. She looks out the window and sees Peter Pan doubled over and puking at a desolate truckstop.
Too much coffee, barks Allen. He’ll be fine.
Let’s swap son, I’ll take the wheel till we hit the state line.
You kids doing okay?
Laurel nods silently. Reed nods. The other guy sits with his arms folded over his chest.
She wakes up again in Salt Lake City at dawn, squinting as harsh blue light refracts off the snow crystals at the Holiday Inn. She is still crammed into Reed’s lap, and the burly man on the right continues to not speak. Peter Pan has successfully carried them across America; Hank is ready to clock a few hours of well-deserved rest. They gather their things and part ways. Laurel is dazed and follows Reed aimlessly. She wishes she could just stay with Allen, who, in addition to being remarkably-competent-and-sure-as-hell-not-a-fool, would have been happy to take her around for the weekend- if she wasn't shackled to Reed by the bonds of their relationship. After a few hours out in the snow, Laurel and Reed end up in a condo with some friends of Reed’s, and get a brief explanation of how the festival works.
passivity / snowballs
Reed scrambles through a snowbank and packs a handful of crusty powder into a snowball… he thinks about tossing it to Laurel, but decides against it. He thinks about tossing it at a man overhead on a ski lift, but decides against it. He couldn’t decide how to be. He knew Laurel didn’t want to get clobbered with a snowball, and he knew she might be critical if he threw it at a skier. He wasn’t sure how Laurel wanted them to be, and Laurel wasn’t sure how Reed wanted her to decide how they should be.
Laurel thought he was being childish, and wasn't in a playful mood- but she didn’t have an alternative vision of what We, whilst enjoying wintry weather in this fine town, would #*!#% do.
Are you gonna throw it?
Are you gonna throw one?
She glances upward, rolls her eyes.
Reed kicks some snow around, throws the snowball back into a bank.
Okay, let’s go. We’re both too passive.
They go to a liquor store, and Laurel asks Reed to get some tequila and Cointreau.
Her vision of maturity for them is undercut with a touch of iciness.
Can you just please be different.
By constructing unbelievably complex and completely internal codes of conduct and signification over the course of their relationship to delineate what their lives should look and feel like, *not throwing a snowball* now represented a quality, "passive", that was both political, aesthetic, and interpersonal.
Reed was politically passive and opposed to aesthetic passivity. Laurel was politically active and arguably aesthetically 'traditional', in that she was a traditional oil painter (they were young, and both of their philosophies were nebulous and barely-formed, but these young ideas were still very real, and they took Thought seriously enough for differences in their political or aesthetic philosophies to become serious issues between them). Additionally, Laurel was introverted, while Reed was an extrovert. He was playful, and charmed people. It also had to do with control. She felt he came along because he was being possessive and wanted to take ownership of her achievements; she responded by being controlling in other ways- refusing to go along with his playfulness, and being cold.
She was compulsively achiever-ish and always felt the need to differentiate herself from other people through accomplishments, so that she could escape her surroundings and exist, free, in a group of strangers who knew who she was, but wasn't going to bring her down.
Reed was a chiller. He had a lot of friends. Laurel also thought he was the more talented poet between them, but he always gave her the role of Artist- as if it were a flower he had dreamed up for her to wear in her hair. He really supported her work. She never felt really, like fun- OR successful, per se, but it seemed like she was 'measurably skilled', and whatever dude, stop worrying about who you *areeeee* - -
like Ben is an artist, but he's like, chill, you know, and
Reed gets the drinks and Laurel shuffles around outside, jumping on a piece of wood, dancing on the curb. He comes back and offers her the bottle, and she takes a deep swig of tequila. Reed’s not really interested, and sparks a doobie.
At some point, in the course of the burning of this spliff, marijuana, that is to say, cannabis, is going to enter my brain and I will *become high*, says Reed, grinning.
Alright, Laurel says, grinning. I’m off drugs, she says, tilting back the Jose Gold for a swig.
She’d been in the habit of drinking for a while when things got bad with Reed. She’d stash vodka in Vitamin Water bottles and pretend she was getting her electrolytes when she was actually getting drunk on as few calories as possible. She was kind of cagey and evasive about it, but this time she was straightforward. Sometimes she called it ‘jargaritas’, which is when you put Jose Gold, Cointreau, and lemonade in a glass and drink it like, wherever.
After the snowball *issue*, they stopped spending much time together. Laurel split and hung out with Esther, and Reed met up with his cinema friends. Laurel's family had showed up uninvited, and she was trying to spend as little time with them as possible.
blood in the sink
In Salt Lake City, Laurel started pricking her hands with knives and making drawings with her blood. She sat naked on the counter of a Holiday Inn, thin and pale, with her sketchbook open in front of her. She had been drunk on the Jose Gold and Cointreau for about four days straight. She sketched out the outline of her body, and drew a single eye, ensconced in a wrinkled frame of skin above her heart. She outlined her left breast and nipple to the left of the eye, and her right breast and nipple to the right. She stippled the shadow of her breasts and waist, then soaked the eye in her diluted blood, painting a flow of red down from the eye. The mirrored door is slightly ajar, and Esther speaks loudly from the other room.
“Yeah,” she called from the bathroom.
“Stop. You have to eat something.”
Laurel wasn’t really sure what the last time she ate was. She remembers being in a Einsten Bros. Bagels at some point in the last 48 hours, standing with her arms folded in a gray wool coat and not eating a bagel.
Laurel draws a bath of warm water and climbs into it. She lays motionless in the tub, staring up at the white plastic of the curtain, the square, white bar of soap.
[Elliot is anxious as she holds the glass in the fire, watching it curve sharply. The flames of the ribbon fire dance, melting the tube. She quickly draws the glass back, letting it out of the fire to cool, and recover].
“I’m coming in,” hollers Esther.
Laurel lays silently, helplessly in the bathtub.
Esther walks in, flings her a towel, and says, “Get up. I’m taking you to Applebee’s.”
Laurel mutely clothes herself in a jeans, sweater, and parka, and follows Esther about a half-step behind as they trudge through the streets to an Applebee’s. It stands alone in a large icy parking lot, its cheery red barn roof beckoning with the promise of nostalgic Americana and french fries.
They are seated at a gold-and-forest-green striped booth in the empty restaurant around 4:00 in the afternoon.
Laurel stares blankly at the menu, incapable of ordering.
“Malbec.” Esther motions to the waiter. “And vegetarian pasta with a puttanesca sauce. Please bring some bread.”
Laurel smiles wanly at Esther, glances around the restaurant, says nothing.
“So,” Esther announces cheerily, “I’ve been working on this project with a director I’ve always admired, Sally Burkowitz- you know, she used to have that column in Out In the Gayborhood that got turned into a sitcom about WeHo- anyway, she wants me to edit this short film for her, and write a few sample script to pitch to the network.”
Esther tears off a hunk of bread, and splits it in two, laying a piece on Laurel’s plate and pushing it towards her.
“Have you seen any good movies this week?”
“Uhm….” she doesn’t remember. “I think I saw this medieval thing- - like by this guy…” she trails off, and reaches over to sip some of Esther’s malbec. She feels physically weak, and guilty for being so parasitic of Esther’s positive energy. She is an emotional blackhole.
“Oh cool, that must have been Guinevere Does Brunch- the Arthurian comedy? I heard it was really witty!”
“Oh, I didn’t know it was a comedy…” Laurel says vaguely.
The waiter arrives with a bowl of linguine. Laurel eats 7 to 12 strands of noodle and two zucchini rounds. It’s more sustenance than she’s had in days. She starts to feel like maybe someday she’ll be okay again.
Laurel Passes out During the Screening of Mark and Jay Duplass Film ‘Puffy Chair’ and is Hospitalized, Where she is Given Orange Juice
The next day, Laurel goes to see some film screenings, feeling uplifted by Esther’s positive vibes yesterday. She walks into the theatre where Mark and Jay Duplass’ Film ‘Puffy Chair’ is being shown, and looks forward to an uplifting romantic comedy.
As the opening credits start to roll, Laurel starts to feel nauseous and dizzy. She is hit by a wave of emotion followed by intense physical weakness, and she starts to feel short of breath. Her vision is blurry. She gets up from her chair to go out to the lobby for water, or to ask for help, but she is weak and collapses in the aisle of the theatre, crawling up toward the back entrance on the floor. She asks someone for help, and is ushered into a back room where someone calls an ambulance.
She arrives at the hospital and is laid down in a bed, where she is diagnosed with an infection, and given antibiotics. She swallows a glass of orange juice, and is sent home.
Laurel’s Movie Premieres
Laurel shrouds her emaciated body in clothing and gets coffee with Reed before the premiere. Finally, they make their way to the theatre and she is seated between her brother and father. There is a surreal quality to seeing everyone from set. Their faces are radiant like omens from the past, only vaguely familiar to her— failing to penetrate the fog that she moves within. Various images, a sequence of photographed actions, play out before her as expected. Lots of blood, some teal gloved hands. An image of herself that has nothing to do with her present reality. She really doesn’t care. She is internally crushed, cold as ice, and guided by an entourage of people that really don’t care.
(whispers to the left). A message gets whispered down the row, telephone-style, until her brother leans into her ear. “William died. Overdose.” William was a friend from kindergarten. She loses it.
Like mannequins on television, old acquaintances stand, shaking hands, telling stories. They exist, but far away. She is dissociative and lost. She breaks out in sobs and leaves the theatre, tripping over feet in the aisle as she gropes for the exit. In the lobby, gold and blue patterned squares adorn a stiff, acrylic carpeting that also covers the theatre columns. She lays crumpled on the floor clutching a carpeted column, sobbing and despondent. Nothing is real. This theatre is a mirage. There is no past or future. There is only blind, desperate sadness.
Stop it, says her father. You're being melodramatic.
She drags a coat sleeve across her face and runs into the bathroom, feeling like she is going to vomit. She chokes down some more tequila “Vitamin Water,” and reemerges quietly. She joins the circle outside and quietly listens to Reed and Esther talking.
see you never
Laurel throws her things back in a bag, and goes downstairs to a hotel lobby-room. There’s a pool table, and she starts knocking balls together, waiting for someone to tell her how the hell she’s going to get back to LA. Reed comes in and starts knocking pool balls together.
I think we have to break up. Like, for good, he says.
Okay, she says. This is not hardly the first time they have had this conversation.
That’s it? You’re not even going to cry?
Laurel raises her hands up, in a gesture that says, what the hell do you want me to do.
They both knew it was going to be like tearing flesh.
She was numb.
Better to cut it clean.
They part ways.
She cried, later, at the space Jesus.
at the space Jesus
Hailey O’Shea hooked Laurel up with a gig over at Contemporary Duplicates, ‘hanging out’. Richard liked to take people under his wing, and she needed a wing. He collected the baddest bitches he could find for his studio, and his team of women was like an exercise in curation: he like them brave, brassy and independent, but deep, soulful, passionate. Hailey O'Shea epitomized this personality type, with an emphasis on BRASSY. She ran the front warehouse operation where the more delicate artwork happened, and where Richard met other artists, curators, or really anyone who wanted to hang.
Laurel remembers sitting on the couch in his office. Richard popped in a DVD with a documentary about his life. They watched the video, and she took note of the complexity of his life. He was known as a Chicano activist, punk musician, and community leader among that group of artists. They’d had a scene, and by all accounts, it was very cool.
See Linda? Linda was hot, man. She used to share a studio with these two guys, Miguel and Ali, and nobody could talk to her seriously about art because she would wear these clingy tank tops that stuck to her little waist, but she was *good* man, I mean her drawings were fire. I always liked her work and put her in this group show--
Richard opens a hardcover book with prints of Shepard Fairey, Retna, pastels from an old friend of his.
There’s plenty of time to talk about the past sweetheart. What are ya drinking? Soda? You bleach that hair yourself? What’s your story?
I’m an artist. Painter.
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.
He led Laurel through the back warehouse. She knew screenprinting well; they used to make sun-dried emulsion screens in Texas, then blast out the screens with a garden hose to expose the masked print areas. So basically, you’d paint on an image, let it dry, cover the screen again with photoemulsion, let it dry, then stick your thumb in the hose to increase the water pressure, and blast out the screen. They used them for t-shirts, notebooks, whatever. Laurel made one of a diamond.
Here the process was exactly the same, but tighter- more choreographed- and at unbelievably large scales. They’d make a screen that was like 4’x5’, ink it with photoemulsion, torch it in a UV booth, then blast it out in a water spray-booth. Andrew hunched over a Mac optimizing image files for printing. He raised one hand to wave without meeting her gaze.
Taking you back to the front, sweetheart. That’s where the magic happens.
Back up front, Richard pulled out a few flat files of large, finely made sheets of vellum, printed with images of Bettie Page, Bob Dylan, and Elvis.
Hand. Painted. Multiples. says Richard. I invented that, myself. They call me the West Coast Warhol. (gyrates his hips in a very silly swooping motion).
Awesome. Awesome? What is that, awesome. Don’t say awesome, kid. That’s some hick, juvenille lingo. Say cool, or use more specific adjectives.
It was like being Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, or Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
So I’m gonna have you on the watercolor table. See these stockings? Every one of these is printed with black ink. The stippling leaves white on the highlights of her very lovely legs, so I’m gonna have you use that sharp little artist brain of yours to turn these babies blue. Okay?
So get rolling, and let’s see you try to impress me.
She smiles. I’ll do my best.
She lays out the beautiful, crisp sheet of vellum and arranges a tray of watercolors next to her on the table. She dunks a brush, and swirls it in a dusty pool of blue, swooping up a juicy brushful for Ms. Page’s incomparable gams.
Richard leans over the table, stroking his goatee.
I’ll leave it to you kid. Looks like you know what you’re doing.
She loved it there. After the first day, she spent every waking moment that she could at Contemporary Duplicates.
Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing
Distant ships sailing into the mist,
You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing
Freedom just around the corner for you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?
Hey, kid, they feed you breakfast over there at that co-op?
No, we make dinners.
Go down to Alonzo’s, get a sandwich. Put it on my tab, okay?
And pick up some Svedka, a small one.
I’d come back with a fried-egg sandwich with lettuce, see what we’re doing for the day.
Richard says, Svedka in the freezer. You seen the Grace Slicks? Pull out a stack of those.
Actually, no, go pick up the Bob Dylans from Andrew.
Andrew wordlessly points her to a stack of paper with screenprinted outlines of Bob Dylan. She brings them back to the front.
Okay, file those under the table for later, and help out Miguel with this screen.
Miguel was running screens on a large pressing table. It was a mechanical press, where the screen was affixed to a hinge that lowered it to a table. Miguel scraped the ink. Richard threw Laurel a stack of damp towels.
Now when Miguel pulls that squeegee, you clean that screen like your life depends on it. Every second that ink spends in the screen is going to degrade the quality of the print. Wet towel; dry towel. Kapiche?
She stood with rags at the ready and watched Miguel and Richard talk ink colors, mixing. Time to press. Michael is very professional. The ink pools out over the screen in thick, beautiful forms, slowly flattening, pooling out—- whammo, Miguel hits that ink with the squeegee —- skkkweeeee,
She starts spraying down the screen and wiping it off, trying to get every little miniscule freakin’ microparticle of ink out of the screen in a matter of seconds.
They load up another one.
Once a little boy from the projects down the street started tagging the dumpster out back with a Sharpie Magnum. Instead of freaking out or calling the police, Richard was like, that kid's got talent! I've seen him around, know his mama's not there to take care of him right now. Pretty soon the kid was a Contemporary Duplicates affiliated artist; they would give him paper and let him practice on one of the tables in the front warehouse.
Another night, Richard was contacted by a group of boys who was train-hopping. They had iPhones, and they would map their course by Google Maps, then jump off sometimes to get a meal or hang out. Contemporary Duplicates was by the train station, and Richard was widely known as the kind of guy to go to, when you’re in a situation like that. Laurel guessed they called the number straight off the Google search, and Richard answered. We’re having a barbeque! he announces gaily.
He laid out some vegetables and hummus, and asked somebody to get burgers and corn-cobs for later. We would cook them out back and eat in the garden. Richard talked to Laurel a lot about the garden. This place used to be barren, he’d say. I care for these every day. He points to a beautiful climbing flower, another tree. He said there was symbolism to the flowers, that he would have artists pick out a flower when they came to work for him, and he lets it grow, waters it. Hailey O’Shea had a tree, he showed her. That’s the type of thing Hailey O’Shea would never tell Laurel, because Hailey was tough, and didn’t like to be emotionally vulnerable, but sometimes you could see that kindness in her, manifested in action. You can pick a flower sometime. We’ll plant something for you. Think about it.
Soon, Richard told me he was going to die. He said he was on the way out. Laurel said,
Don’t be like that.
That’s what the doctor says.
You just need to take care of yourself.
My doctor said I need to start working out, maybe 30 minutes, a few times a week. Eat something green. It’s like, roughage, you know? Need to eat some roughage.
Richard picks up a celery stick and starts gnawing on it.
Okay, so that’s cool.
Laurel never chose a flower for Richard's garden, because their relationship went up in blazes.