The Brilliant, Palm-littered Afternoon of the Soul

As the plane begins its descent into Los Angeles, the child behind me begins to scream. His parents try every trick in their considerable library to quiet him. “There, Jerry, it’s almost over,” his mother soothes.
Jerry shrieks.
“Look at this nice toy.”
Jerry pauses, but only for breath.
“Your brother isn’t crying,” his father says gently.
The boy screams without ceasing, long, high-pitched wails not of fear or exhaustion but of actual anguish. Meanwhile, I take photographs of our approach.
After about twenty minutes, his mother says with intense relief, “It’s all over, Jerry. We’re here.”

Jerry continues to scream.

His parents slowly wrestle themselves, their gear, and their several young children off the plane with the patient determination of Angelinos. They carry a varied mix of shapes, features, skin tones, and accents from all over the world or just the neighborhood. As they pass my seat I catch sight of Jerry, whose eyes are wide and dark and unforgettable as a Hester Street photograph. His parents smile exhaustedly at me, as if a little frightened at something they see in my pale face, and apologize for their child.
It occurrs to me that perhaps Jerry’s mother was mistaken. Maybe it wasn’t the descent that bothered Jerry, but where it was going to end.
Welcome to Los Angeles.

In the twenty minutes Jerry was screaming, this is what Los Angeles looked like:

la

When I walked off the plane, this is what Los Angeles looked like:

lax

Which clues you in on everything you need to know about Los Angeles.

I was heartened to note, however, that at the airport the sign for baggage claim had been adorned with band stickers. Just in case a high-powered talent scout happened to need both band and baggage, the sort of thing which might happen in L.A. at any moment. You never know.

Given the natural process of wear and tear, years ago everyone I knew in Los Angeles either died or moved at least three valleys away. So naturally the moment I set foot outside the airport, someone is shouting my name. The total stranger who joyfully pumps my hand turns out to be the director of an LGBT organization that has set up an East Coast reading from the book. I do know him, as a set of thoughtful and generous lines of text in my email program.

He, on the other hand, has recognized me from my press kit.

I stand on the oily concrete floor of a rental car agency and bask in my first perfect LA moment. As a handsome man eagerly congratulates me on my artistic achievements, palm fronds and freshly washed BMWs drift in and out behind his head.

Much driving follows. As LA is a city of Catholic tastes, this might be considered penance.

I do, however, find time to visit a tar pit.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology is closed for the duration of my free time. This is a disaster of epic proportions. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I purchase a Pink’s hot dog and lounge between dueling sabretooths and dying mammoths at nature’s hommage to petroleum products on Wilshire Boulevard. As the sun dies over Westwood in blazing pastels, native fauna emerges from the shrubbery; crows, vagrants at a picnic, grim-faced joggers, and gay men with tiny dogs. Though no tiny dogs sink slowly into a tar pit to be preserved as fossils for future generations, I do fulfill my lifelong dream of being accidentally left inside the building when the museum is locked for the night. Overall, the evening is highly satisfactory.

More driving follows.

At some point, I can no longer work the pedals. This is how I end up in a hostel in West Hollywood, watching Revenge of the Nerds lll at one a.m. with young German tourists and several French-speaking West Africans. Though they are all elegant and I learn quite a lot about worldwide marajuana prices, this does not improve the movie.

Somewhere South of Pico Boulevard, I hear Jerry Quigley advertising my gig on the radio. I feel famous.

Once again, I decide my wardrobe is inadequate. Since I am slated to appear at the West Hollywood Bookfair on a memoir panel entitled Who Am I? I purchase a bowling shirt that says Ed on the pocket and a strand of artificial pearls. Though we speak in the shadow of the Pacific Design Center, my ensemble seems to do.

We are outdoors in a park hemmed with star jasmine. It is extremely hot. Both my fellow panelists and my audience are extremely cool. There are reading glasses and summer dresses. Though I am the only man on the panel, everyone seems to like me very much. Perhaps it is the patient, boundless optimism of Angelinos. Perhaps it is because I inform several aspiring writers that they are not required to write anything they think is boring. I also tell them they are not required to relive their childhood agonies on paper and publish the results; they can throw the results away, now free to write about the lives they’ve lived on any terms–for instance, food and wardrobe. Perhaps it is the bowling shirt.

Back in the green room I deconstruct a turkey wrap, then drink several quarts of water and an entire can of Cragmont Grape Soda. I appear at a second event entitled Michael Kerns and Other Queer Renegades. This time my fellow performers are all gay men. There are cowboy hats and deltoids. Though I have walked approximately fifty feet, I believe I am the only person in the district making the transition from the first type of West Hollywood audience to the second. My ensemble still seems to do. I am by now so addled by the heat that Tim Miller has to remind me that while performing, it is actually a good idea to remove the microphone from the stand.

Perhaps it was the grape soda.

In spite of my failings Tim, Michael, and the rest are all wonderful. I thank them effusively if incoherently. More driving follows. But first there is air conditioning. As a result I live to see another day. In it, I do a reading at A Different Light bookstore (L.A. division). Staff members–some of whom spent their Sunday selling copies of my book in the jasmine-scented oven of the Bookfair to eager post-panel attendees from the other West Hollywood–listen attentively as I read. They ask smart and honest questions, as do those secret spies who have made it through the traffic in time to join me. Afterward, I buy a magazine from the back racks called Bare-ass Wrassling as a joke gift for my boyfriend’s birthday. The event organizer spends fifteen minutes gift-wrapping it with loving care. Thank you, Billy. I come to the conclusion that the staff of A Different Light are recruited straight from heaven.

It is not until I am on my way to see said boyfriend and am startled by the diversity of people sharing the BART train from Oakland that I realize how much I have missed this collective company. Of course, LA is the captiol-in-exile of nearly every nation and fashion on earth. So many varied and amazing lives were all right there the whole time, separated only by stucco, star jasmine, and several million panels of enameled, impact-resistant steel.

Sitting in a plastic chair beneath the fabulous neoclassic dome of the Tenderloin Shih Yu-Lang YMCA (soon to be ejecting its residents in favor of increased hotel space) I pick up a newspaper and discover the new national civic money-saving fad is privatizing public libraries.

I consider standing up, walking North across the multicolored marble balcony of that venerable public institution, and continuing until I reach Canada. But my legs are too tired from all the driving. So I kiss my boyfriend, give him a copy of Bare-Ass Wrassling lovingly wrapped by a stranger in another city, go home for a few days, and get on a plane for New York. Via Detroit. Detroit has an indoor monorail, the friendliest service staff, and possibly the worst airport food in the world.

The question of the day is: How do we know if we are doing any good?

On the flight across America, Bonnie Raitt and John Prine sing through my headphones the Thought for the Day:

Bring me an angel
That flies from Montgomery
Bring me a poster from an old rodeo
Just give me one thing
That I can hold on to
To believe in this living is a hard way to go.

The word for the day is impervious, which Merriam and Webster define as:

1. Not admitting of entrance or passage through; impenetrable.
2. Not capable of being harmed or damaged.
3. Not capable of being affected.

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3 Comments on “The Brilliant, Palm-littered Afternoon of the Soul”

  1. Trystan Says:

    Hey Aaron!

    Saw you were in NY today but alas,
    the timing is horrible.

    I’m working at the Task Force all day;
    we are dedicating most of our resources
    to this ENDA madness
    and taking a couple hours off
    in the middle of the day
    is not an option.
    I didn’t hear from you about getting together
    to chat
    about theatre and making change
    in the world
    (and in New York)
    but would still love to make that happen
    if at all possible.
    I can be reached at FukGender@yahoo.com

    Best of luck on the reading today and on the rest of the tour
    if I don’t get to see you while you are here

    this time around.

    t/

  2. Juniper Alan Says:

    Dear Aaron Raz Link,
    I did see you in NYC, both at the School of Visual Arts gig and later, at the GLBTQ center. Your book is riviting, you are funny and smart, and almost everyone who knows you likes to say that you are the best company available on the planet. Keep on trucking.

    Juniper Alan

  3. Jung Weil Says:

    Helloooo there, Aaron!

    I hope you remember me from the D.C. book signing earlier this year. I’m the Korean American woman who “flung” my hair for you. Regrettably, I have misplaced your e-mail address, so hence this e-mail via your blog.

    Listen, I will be in Portland this weekend — August 8 (Friday) and 9 (Saturday) and thought we could get together for lunch, coffee at Powell’s. Friday would be a better day, actually. Should this weekend not be possible, I will be in Portland again later in the month to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

    Much love,

    Jung Weil
    (202) 421-1573 (Cell)
    jungcreates@gmail.com


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