Imagine you’re hearing a low wolf whistle

If you’ve come this far, you should know right off the bat that I’m not holding out for some unearthly hunk that’s so far out of my league that I may as well be playing another sport altogether. Attraction is a delicate balancing act of looks, personality, wit, style, and all that other junk. It’s too hard (and it would be too misleading) for a simple guy like me to try and come up with a bulleted list of stuff that makes me all hot and bothered and sappy and mushy. Of course, I also know what will make me lose track of what I’m thinking if I see it walking down the street. So to give you some idea of what sets my hormone’s a-raging (as far as purely external qualities go), here are a few quick things to look at.

This “Perfect Love” Business Is Horseshit!

I’m pretty convinced of it. I desperately want to believe
that such a thing exists, but I’m immediately suspicious whenever people
claim to have found it. I think they’re deluding themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I think love is out there — I’ve gotten to play the
game myself a couple of times. I just don’t think love is perfect.
It’s not all goodness and light, chickadees and rainbows. Love at first
sight — the happy, Davey Jones eye-twinkle, babytalk love — is a crock.
It’s lust that somehow manages to make the successful transition to an actual
relationship without too much agony along the way. I think love is made
up of lots of compromise, patience, friction, and the reluctance to just
bag it when the going gets rough.

Even to me, my words sound a little harsh. Although a lot of the last paragraph
is paraphrased from the writings of love guru Leo Buscaglia, it nevertheless
has the stink of the charred hair of someone who’s been burned. I must be
frank — I have been.

I haven’t been burned by love. The couple of times I’ve really felt it,
it’s been good. It wasn’t easy, though — not instinctual, not always enough,
not meant to last forever. Instead, I’ve been burned by the desperate, incessant
search for the elusive perfect love. I’ve been burned by silly romantic
notions and the delusions they create. I’ve been burned by my powerful longing
to love someone, a longing which usually strips me of rational, critical
thought and puts my self-esteem out on the corner to be flattened by a passing
bus. I’ve been burned by people who thought we should just be friends (but
didn’t mean it); by people who just plain blew me off; and by myself all
those times when I saw in someone just the things I wanted to see, only
to be soon enough reminded that I filled in too many of the gaps with my
own imagination.

Like most Americans, I’ve been crippled by all the fodder that our culture
has spewed out on the subject of love. From Shakespeare (or, dare I say,
popular misinterpretations of his work) to Big Top Pee-Wee, with
stops just about everywhere along the way, we are trained to think that
love is easy, to think that conflict and loss are plot complications rather
than real dangers that can rip us apart from each other. We’re trained to
believe that Lois Lane can truly love a big lunk who rarely has a conversation
with her, and that Tony and Maria could love each other truly enough to
die together after one dirty dance and a date in a dress shop. How can images
like these, and every single notion perpetuated by pop music, possibly prepare
normal human beings — man or woman, gay or straight, young or old — for the very real emotional risks and hurdles presented by intimate, romantic
interaction? We are trained that love is both chaste and hot, that sex is
both our right and our shame, that relationships are both the final goal
and the eternal prison, that we should be true to ourselves yet sacrifice
our identities to win another’s affection. What are we to believe? How are
we supposed to muddle through all this fiction? No person has a team of
scriptwriters to identify the one perfect life mate, and that bites.

I’ve not had a lot of luck with dates and relationships and romance. I freely
admit that. I’ve had enough luck, though, to know what I keep missing. Who
can say whether it’s been the successes or the recurring snubs that keep
my foolish romantic optimism alive? I could see a case for either.

In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to feel the flush of infatuation, the
tinglings of burgeoning romance, and the hills and valleys of real love.
("Real love" is a separate entity from "perfect love,"
but that’s a diatribe for another day.) I’ve gone into these episodes with
my head overflowing with all those visions of domestic bliss by which I’ve
been conditioned my whole life. It makes me feel as if I’ve come so close,
so why couldn’t there be the possibility that I just haven’t been lucky
enough yet? The myth might still exist.

At the same time, I know that I’ve been disappointed or hurt a lot in the
past (and certainly will be in the future). At those times, it’s been the
notion that something better must be lurking out there, just waiting to
finally make me happy again, that keeps me going despite the disappointments.
I can be as rational as I want, and keep telling myself that no Prince Charming
is really going to charge in on a white steed to whisk me away to dreamland;
but it’s a tempting enough fantasy to keep alive when there’s little to
keep you company except for the mindcud being churned out of the television
set. I’ve needed the myth to exist.

I could probably write a book about all the reasons I’m such a freakish
loser when it comes to dating. I could probably write a book about why I
think I’m so bad, when I’m probably no more awkward or clueless than anyone
else. What it boils down to, though, is mostly the realization that when
I’m dealing with another person — with his own feelings, scars, and hopes
— I lose control of the situation. In other areas of my life, I’m often
a wonder to behold — confident, intelligent, insightful, forward-thinking,
and efficient. Put me in the same room with someone, though, tell me it’s
a date, and I begin to babble and blather like a moron. I just have no instincts
with interpersonal relationships, and that forever puts me at square one
in that giant Candyland race for love. It can be hard enough to read other
people, but when you have a personal stake in the matter, all the possibilities
for disaster are magnified on an often overwhelming, paralyzing scale. I
never know whether or not someone finds me attractive, and my instincts
fly much further out the window if I’m attracted to that person. If you
throw the possibility of real love into the equation, it gets even worse.
Despite all the dates in all the situations I’ve had, I don’t know how to
act, how to present myself, how to be charming, how to be appropriately
frank or coy. If the whole process is a search, then I’m armed with welding
goggles and soundproof headphones, the map long since discovered to be a

I keep trying to find love, heaven knows. When you get right down to it,
I have entirely too much pluck to give up. As dejected as I get from time
to time, I keep looking, and I keep clinging to the notion that I’ll find
the right guy one day. Maybe not the perfect man, but that’s okay. Perfection
is for movies and television and the simps at American Top 40. I want reality — I
just want the good kind. I want to beat Michael Tolliver’s rule and have
the great job, the fabulous apartment, and the hot lover all at one time,
because I’m worth it, damnit!

Sparky Gets Dissed Again

Over and over, I keep thinking of that one thing you said: "You’re
the last person I want to . . . hurt . . . like this."

I’ve got a fucking news flash for you — TOO FUCKING LATE! You hurt me,
and you hurt me a helluva lot. You hurt me with your cowardice, you hurt
me with your self-absorption. You hurt me because you knew that I was falling
for you harder and harder, and you didn’t have the balls to tell me straight
out that you didn’t feel the same way. You let me continue to feel sorry
for the troubles you were having, and you kept neglecting to hint that maybe
I was one of them. You told me you liked me, and that you liked being with
me, and maybe you did. The fact remains that you didn’t say shit when
your feelings started to change,
even though you constantly dwell on
everything that bugs you.

It was like I had to pull fucking teeth to get you to even suggest that
things weren’t okay. I had to ask what was wrong, and then say the words
for you, only to have you numbly agree. That first time, I felt like I was
completely losing control because you couldn’t even get out a whole sentence.
I had to do all the work, and most of the talking, and you just gave up
and said you wanted to be with me. Couldn’t you just be honest enough to
come out and say it? Why did you have to make me say all those things about
how much I cared about you and about how scared I was about that? When I
told you that appeasing me — sticking around even though you didn’t feel
anything — would be far worse than simply telling the truth about whatever
you felt, why did you do it anyway? What kind of a chickenshit bastard
are you?

The other night, after we spent the whole day together having fun, after
I made you dinner again, what were you thinking when you just picked up
and walked out without so much as a handshake? Were you thinking it would
be easier to just tell a little lie and see how long it would take for me
to put all the pieces together? Maybe it was easier for a coward like
you, but it was a pretty rotten thing to do
to someone who had invested
as much in the relationship as I had. It was pretty rotten to make me call
you and demand an apology and the truth.

The worst part of all this is that I would take you back in two shakes of
a rat’s ass if I thought I had a chance. Your moodiness is a problem I can
deal with — I have with lots of other people before — so that in itself
is not enough to scare me off. If I thought that you could love me anything
like the way I was starting to love, I would set myself up without hesitation.
Maybe you’re fucking screwy, but other than that (maybe because of that?),
you are incredible.

I think that’s what stings the most. I’ve had so much trouble finding all
these nebulous, rare qualities that I value in people, and you had so many
of them. You were offbeat and quietly funny and smart and unpretentious
and fucking beautiful in just the right way. You also had other qualities
that I hadn’t realized I needed so badly in a lover — you made me feel
calm, relaxed, like I could really pull it all together for once. You were
most everything I could have wanted, and now I can’t even think of who else
could pull it off, certainly not how I could even meet someone like that
again. You’re a bastard because you couldn’t feel for me, even though I
"did nothing that was ever wrong." You’re a bastard and a chickenshit
asshole and I want you and I need you and that pisses me off more than I
can really say.

Where All Men Are United in the Love of Chicken-N-Waffle

Eddie outside Roscoe'sRoscoe’s the name
and they call me the king,
grandmaster of the chicken
and the waffle thing.
I said read my lips and, friends,
don’t miss a word
‘Cause the grandmaster’s gonna
give you the bird!

Eddie and MattWhen I first saw Tapeheads, I nearly hemorrhaged from laughing during
the commercial spot that the two main characters did for Roscoe’s House
of Chicken-N-Waffles. I thought the idea was so crazy, so inane. It was
a stroke of brilliance on the part of the screenwriter.

Boy howdy, was I amazed when I found out that Roscoe’s really exists. Actually,
there are three of them scattered throughout the greater L.A. area. When
I found out that I was going to be in L.A., I knew that if nothing else,
I had to make a holy pilgrimage to this soaring tribute to entrepreneurial

Roscoe’s is mostly a soul food restaurant, with big hearty meals at good
prices. Despite a tantalizing assortment, I knew I had to have the #20 —
the "Carolina" chicken plate with a buttermilk waffle on the side.
This was some good eatin’s — the creamiest butter, the thickest syrup,
the tenderest chicken breast. If you have chicken and waffle, trust me:
you really have to eat both at the same time. The combo sounds scary, but
it’s truly delightful — hot, sweet, and rich.

This place is no secret, either. We showed up right before the rush, apparently.
When we left, totally satiated and deliriously happy, there was a huge line
down the street. Obviously, California cuisine can also mean biscuits, gravy,
grits, and — without a doubt — chicken-n-waffle.

An Entertainment Bonanza

Me and Mary and ElayneI don’t know if it’s possible to really explain Marty and Elayne. At least, I don’t think anyone could express exactly what it’s like to see them, to hear them.

Marty and Elayne are a husband-and-wife lounge act who perform nightly at
a Los Angeles restaurant/lounge called the Dresden. This place is
the toniest. It’s all brown velour walls and furniture and gold light fixtures.
Circular booths and small tables surround a baby grand piano ringed with
a counter and chairs.

Elayne sits at the piano with a pile of sheet music and a couple of extra
Casiotone keyboards. Next to her is Marty and his stand-up bass, with a
drum kit on the side just in case. Marty is the stone-faced protector of
Elayne, the ethereal artist who lives through the music she plays. It sweeps
her away, and Marty makes sure everyone respects that. Together, as they’ve
done for the last twenty years, they wail out popular favorites and old
standards. They don’t just perform simple smarmy covers, though. Every song
is transformed into something unique, something unbelievable, something
bordering on the incomprehensible.

Without fail, they start every song in a simple way, with either Marty singing
in his pitch-for-pitch Sinatra voice, or Elayne in her own jazzy, high-frequency
way. After a verse and a chorus, though, the fun begins. Elayne scats. She
scats like a cat in heat. She scats in song and plays improvised, otherwordly
riffs on the piano. Marty keeps the beat and keeps it strong, plucking or
pounding away a steady rhythm that moves Elayne along like a runaway roller
coaster. The overall effect seems pretty cheesy, but there’s something about
it — something way beyond the humor and the impossible.

You see, these guys have passion for what they’re doing. They’re serious
and it shows. If they were just going along in a happy state of shtick,
I don’t think it would work. It would be too over the top. This is the real
thing, and it makes all the difference. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
Of course, I saw people in the room who were watching them with a superior,
Lettermanesque shit-eating grin, but most everyone, the people who looked
like they kept coming back, was having fun: they all really appreciated
Marty and Elayne in a goofy way. Dresden is by no means a cheap gin joint.
There’s no cover, but people wouldn’t pay those drink prices if the show
wasn’t worth it.

Marty and Elayne perform a huge selection of tunes, mostly on request, like
"Girl from Ipanema," "Staying Alive," "Fever,"
"Mack the Knife," "Muskrat Love" and other crowd-pleasers.
The most amazing number I heard of them all, by far, was "Light My
Fire." This transcended mere performance. I think it transcended mere
music. With Elayne taking the vocal reins and the keyboards, and Marty on
the drums, these two wailed away in a frenzy I couldn’t have ever expected.
I haven’t seen musicians swept away like that in a looooong time. All hail
Marty and Elayne, keeping the sanctity of the lounge alive!

Boogie Nights at the Moonlight Rollerway

When was the last time you went roller skating? I don’t mean sleek rollerblades, I mean four thick wheels, big orange stopper in the front, disco blaring all around you. that’s what happened to me and my friends at the Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale.

We were originally attracted by the novelty of going to the only rink in
California that had a real organ player, but we found that it was the organist’s
day off, and the rink was actually a time capsule from 1982.

Now in 1983, I was a regular patron of Skate Odyssey on Staten Island
in New York. Moonlight had all the same elements that defined my early adolescent
years — earth-toned rugs, slushees, disco balls, and "Jam On It."
They were even having a birthday party for some kid while we were there,
and he got his own solo skate on the rink.

I would only sound gushy and totally retro if I spent too much time raving
about the fun to be had here for four dollars, so I’ll keep it simple. We
did a disco hokey-pokey on skates. We ate a big soft pretzel. We skated
to "Double Dutch," "YMCA," and even Elvis. I learned
I could still skate backwards, and my friend Monica, a Ph.D. candidate in
religion and philosophy, was so moved that she stripped down to a catsuit
to boogie on the rink. I’m sure all the twelve-year-olds will never be the
same again.

Gawking in L.A.

Dan Rhatigan, your resident megalomaniacal self-publisher, wrote, lived, and photographed this shocking tale of disaster and wonderment.

Accommodations provided by Northwest Airlines and the sinister Dr. Lau.

This was my first time

I mean it — wow. Wow. Wow! Freakin’ WOW!

I just returned from my first trip out West — a brief week in Los Angeles
to visit my oldest pal Eddie and see what the whole West Coast thing was
like. It would be a criminal understatement to say that I got my money’s
worth from my discount airfare tickets. I got adventure, trash, sorrow,
glamour, nostalgia, chicken and waffles, and natural disaster. Bad omens,
however, started pouring in as I left Boston. I left work early so I could
get a head start to the airport for a six-thirtyish flight. I optimistically
(foolishly, whichever) ignored the warnings of snow, fiercely determined
to escape to the land of seventy-six-and-sunny come hell or high water.
The plane left a little late, but I wasn’t too worried, since I had a direct
flight, needing only to switch to a different plane with the same flight
number in Minneapolis. (You can see this coming, right?)

I packed my warmer layers into my tote bag and checked it once I reached
the airport. I patiently waited at the airport, eavesdropping on a conversation
between a jappy girl and a trashy family as they compared notes on their
respective trips to Portugal. This girl was sitting around reading, and
soon the thirteenish daughter from the family recognized her and started
interrogating her about her vacation. Soon, the whole bunch got into the
act, bombarding the slightly horrified young lady with ardent small talk.
At one point, she was struck dumb when the young son of the family started
asking her about her romantic life, and if she knew "Joe Escobar,"
apparently a friend of the family’s in Portugal. I left before I started
to suffer brain rot.

The plane ride itself was uneventful as those things go. The selection of music was catastrophically poor — the blandest possible assortment of inoffensive pop hits and country-western ditties. This was not the best assortment for someone who prefers music that’s a little more challenging. The in-flight news and travel show, a shameless promotional vid by the airline, was a paltry attempt to distract the passengers from the fact that we were getting no movie. Again, it was meant to be singularly inoffensive. Their little
travel info pieces on different cities like San Francisco and New Orleans
would suggest that every city in the country is a pleasant racial mix, straight,
and affluent. A lifelong city-dweller, I was skeptical. The news was little
more than entertainment dreck profiling Michael Bolton and some retail magnate.
Admittedly, though, I have never been one to enjoy lowest-common-denominator
entertainment. Craving distraction from that cultural vacuum, I scarfed
down free snacks (those honey-roasted peanuts aren’t as bad as standup comedians
would have us believe, don’t you think?) and Cokes (they’ll give you a full
can of Coke as opposed to a thimbleful of anything else) and struck up conversation
with the guy sitting next to me, a music scene guy from Minneapolis who
was visiting his sister in Beantown. We talked about the state of rock clubs
in Boston and junk like that, and I thought it was really wacky that you
can have a long conversation with someone while traveling without exchanging
names, since they’re largely unimportant. I started getting nervous when
the airline began to make announcements about which connecting flights had
already left Minneapolis, since they made no mention about the fate of the
flight I was on. I’m a pretty unseasoned traveler, so I had no idea how
these direct (as opposed to non-stop) flights operated.

The Pit Stop
Sure enough — BAM — I was stranded overnight in deep Minnesota six-degree
winter with nothing but a pullover shirt, a barely quilted leather jacket,
and the emergency toilet kit in my camera bag. Once settling accommodation
and rebooking issues with the airline, I set off toward a fabulous evening
in the posh Comfort motor lodge.

On the shuttle bus to the motel, I struck up a few more anonymous conversations,
this time with two girls from Rhode Island who were fiercely determined
to get drunk, and a Minnesota man who inadvertently proved that people from
that state are way too friendly for their own safety. Once at the hotel,
the two girls invited me to go to the Mall of America with them to a bar
called Hooters, and I agreed on the spur of the moment. I walked upstairs
to my freezing earth-toned room to drop my junk, and then back down to the
lounge to see if anyone else from my flight was there. "Cheers"
was on the TV, and I thought it oddly fitting that I was stranded en route
to my vacation only to be faced with a TV show set in the city I’d fled
earlier in the day. Placing my order for a really early wake-up call, I
realized that a trip to the country’s largest mall with two Rhode Island
townies who were probably trying to pick me up would probably cause me to
draw blood. I knocked on the door of their room and announced that I was
gonna bail. I decided to stay in and wallow in the injustice of my inability
to escape subfreezing temperatures and watch a goofy Mel Gibson movie. (A
date I’d had the night before mentioned a big crush on Mel Gibson, so I
thought I should ponder if that was a scary thing or not.) I couldn’t even
draw weird pictures and write unsettling messages on the backs of the prints
in the room because they were bolted onto the walls. I wrapped myself in
four or five blankets and went to sleep.

In the morning I commiserated with a guy who was on my flight the night
before. Boy, did the two of us switch into bitchy queen mode as we rehashed
every indignity forced upon us, from travel delays to bitter cold to Middle
America to generic toiletries. At least our new plane did provide me with
my first celebrity sighting of the trip–Olympic wash-up Scott Hamilton.
Other than that, the flight was largely uneventful–imitation Egg McMuffins
and dry cereal, The Good Son, lots of free beverages.

I was blown away when we flew over the desert, however. A lifetime in the
Northeast left me totally unprepared to see terrain that was so vast, colorful,
and empty. It was hard to shake the feeling that I was just looking at more
Timothy O’Sullivan pictures, not actually passing over this huge patch of
dramatic terrain with its monolithic landforms. The East is so godawful
round and bland — the mountains are so old and worn, too much green and babyshit
brown, everything blending into everything else. It was a real shock to
fly over a jagged mountain range and then suddenly see a huge, flat sprawling
metropolis nestled between the hills and the water.

Sparky in Venice Eddie

Finally. . .
Ed had to work the day I arrived, so his roommate Matt picked me up and
brought me back to the Chinese palace where they live. (Trust me, that’s
the best description.) If you’ve never seen L.A., let me assure you that
every description you’ve heard — good or bad — is totally true. The city is
trashy, beautiful, eclectic, hideous, smoggy, sunny, and just plain different
from any of the big cities I’d been to in the East.

Matt drove me around and I began my photo essay of an outsider’s view of
Los Angeles. We hit Hollywood Boulevard, with its old glamour degenerated
into kitsch-laden decadence; the Sunset Strip, with its info overload; and
Beverly Hills, with its hodge-podge of revivalist architecture. It’s like
the whole city buys into the notion that everything in it was built for
a movie set.

We drove up to Malibu and examined the fire devastation in the hills around
Topanga Canyon. Already I’d witnessed the effect of hitting beautiful, sparsely
populated nature minutes from a crammed downtown. To celebrate the fantastic
day (it had been a full 75 degrees colder when I woke up that morning),
we decided to park by the side of the road and jump into the ocean. I felt
remarkably uninhibited as I stripped down to my Calvins and frolicked in
the Pacific for the first time in my life. Damn, that water was cold. I
thought my willy would retract all the way back to my intestines. "Oh
that’s right," I remembered, "this is still January, isn’t it."
The "Baywatch" fantasy shot to hell, I suppose.

The next few days were filled with wackiness, as various sidebars will show.
On the whole, I had heaps of fun. I liked the city a lot, and seriously
entertained thoughts of life there. I was transfixed by the notion of a
city where the spirit of trash and pop culture is so alive, so ubiquitous.
Aside from every other sight reminding me of a movie or TV show, the L.A.
aesthetic is invariably misguided and amusing. I don’t know how to drive,
though, and have spent a lifetime growing to love walking in big cities
and seeing people all the time. Car culture like L.A.’s might well kill

Despite all my adventures, some things were just not in the cards. We didn’t
do much in the way of nightlife, since the fellas weren’t big club fans.
That meant I didn’t get to see if any notable celebs were secret closet
cases. We were refused service when we went to Trader Vic’s, since we apparently
weren’t classy enough for their Polynesian Revival theme. I never got to
plunder the costume and prop warehouse at the movie company where Ed works.
I never got to see how much Disneyland will tolerate before throwing someone
out. I would have liked to have done some serious shopping, but none of
us had enough money to justify reckless behavior like that. I would have
liked to have seen Weird Al’s house in Beverly Hills, but I didn’t get the
chance. I did, however get Burt Ward’s phone number, so if anyone wants
to wish Robin their best, call him at 310/376-8060.

Just Like an Irwin Allen Flick
The big event, of course, was the earthquake.

As fate would have it, Los Angeles was ravaged by a 6.6 Richter-scale act
of god whilst I vacationed. Truth be told, I was pretty oblivious to the
devastation that leveled the San Fernando valley (THE valley, of Valley
fame), but it was a pip just the same.

When the first bang hit, I woke up and thought it was one of those frequent
minor tremors that I’d seen so often in movies like L.A. Story. It
was a pretty cool rumbling (not unlike airplane turbulence) followed by
a distant smash of glass and lots of car alarms and barking dogs. Ed and
Matt both rushed out of their rooms and were amazed. It was apparently the
biggest they’d felt since moving there a year-and-a-half ago. The two of
them were stunned that I was so blasé about it. We didn’t know the
scope of the whole thing till later, since the power went out and there
was no transistor radio. All we knew was that Ed got a rug-burn scab on
his knee from crawling across his floor to the doorjamb of his room.

The damage we found was pretty much along these lines: a poster taped to
a wall fell down, a roll of linoleum toppled over, a mirror fell without
cracking, a latex severed head dropped off a shelf, and a lone champagne
flute cracked. Ed’s friend Brad was the first to call and check on us. From
him we learned that the tremor we felt was actually a really big deal. His
apartment windows shattered and lots of stuff flew off shelves and walls.
We all went back to sleep, often waking to aftershocks and phone calls.
Prompted by my panic-stricken mother in New York, Ed’s dad called to see
if we were okay, since they had heard on the news that there was this huge
quake which collapsed sections of the freeway and caused fires and floods
all over the city. News to us!

We had power and fairly reliable phone service a couple of hours later and
saw exactly what had happened. Basically, in Matt’s words, "the earthquake
hit where Whitey lived." Maybe the riots had claimed the inner city
in the past, but natural disaster had taken its toll on more affluent neighborhoods
and suburbs. Some major freeway sections collapsed, which will make commuting
utter hell for a while, and there was lots and lots of property damage.
The entire valley was almost sealed off from the rest of civilization. Heaps
of people died. Over seventy trailer homes went up in smoke. We watched
footage of fireballs shooting up from the street as water mains sent torrents
past them. The rumble was felt as far away as Las Vegas, and electricity
went out as far away as Portland, Oregon, because of the drain on the western
power grid. Blah, blah, blah — for a long time it was hard to watch the news
without hearing all the gritty details rehashed.

Let me digress and say that Los Angeles journalists are the biggest bunch
of yahoos that ever lived. Every time a scientist at CalTech issued a caution
about possible structural damage, a reporter would chirp in, "You mean
to say we’re seeing massive destruction on a cataclysmic scale?" One
newscaster was reporting on hospital crowding because of quake injuries,
and said that a particular hospital in the valley was facing a flood of
emergency patients &mdash so she leans into the camera and says, "So just
don’t go there!" Great way to keep the masses calm, cool, and collected,
eh? Another woman — in Northridge, the town with the dubious honor of sitting
on the epicenter of the quake — urged viewers to listen to the sound of gas
leaking from a collapsed house, while she poked her head into the rubble
from which a man just been freed. What kind of nimrod stunt was that? "Gee,
you can actually hear the gas, not just smell it! Let’s look into this pile
of rubble and see what’s there. Got a match, anyone?"

We soon started to find out what had happened to the people around us. Matt
scanned the Internet to see what news had seeped through. We called anyone
we could, and heard stories of collapsed wall units, shattered glass, near
misses, and overall disbelief that the whole thing had really happened.
Once we had contacted just about everyone we knew and either compared stories
or reassured them of our safety, Ed’s friend Laurie from work called and
said that their Beverly Hills office was trashed, so there would be no work.
Instead, she invited people to her house in Pasadena, where she and her
hubby hadn’t seen any damage. Basically, while parts of the city were engulfed
by cataclysm and catastrophe, a group of us basked in the sun, playing croquet
and drinking (there was no fiddler playing in the background). It was pretty
L.A. — pretty decadent and jaded — if you stop and think about it.

What’s with these people ?
The city of Los Angeles on the whole seemed to react in strange ways to
the whole catastrophe. Aside from the aforementioned loopy newscasters and
general panic, the city seemed to have some very peculiar responses. Lots
of people on the news seemed to feel no regret that they lost everything,
as if the climate made it all right to put up with natural disaster. The
other half of the people spoke of plans to depart immediately, with reckless
disregard about whether or not they had someplace to go. One of the city’s
first acts was to impose a citywide curfew, the fear of looting still fresh
in everyone’s minds. (It was definitely strange to feel that I might be
arrested if I even went to the convenience store for snacks. I never had
a curfew growing up, and suddenly stuff worse than being grounded could
happen.) Too many people seemed to worry about how soon the federal government
would reimburse them for lost property. I’m used to New Englanders whining
but stoically putting up with their own climate. Panic really surprises
me, but there’s a world of difference between a Nor’easter and an earthquake.

Off like a prom dress
There were no problems with the airport by the time I was supposed to leave
the next morning, so I got on the plane and resumed life as usual. I talked
to a girl sitting next to me who was a musical theatre major returning to
school in Boston. I managed to hold my end in a conversation about show
tunes and Barbra Streisand (Gee, where might a young fag have learned to
do that?), all the while trying to throw in more interesting tidbits about
myself in hopes of catching the interest of the really cute guy with the
shaved head and the striped shirt sitting in front of me. Hey, man, if you’re
out there and recognize any of this, don’t be shy!