SOMEWHERE OFF OF MAGNOLIA
Living off of one of the more famous streets in the valley has its perks. Most people can roughly tell which part of town you are in by the cross-streets – although another common technique I’ve found useful for this is by which part of a person’s car has a dent in it. You don’t have to pay for parking everywhere you go and you’re way less likely to get a ticket when you visit your friends down the block versus the ones in Hollywood or on the east side. Perhaps best known as the street that shares the name with PTA’s Magnolia, the area is a true reflection of the film. A group of people struggling with living so close to Hollywood, just on the other side of the hill, and uniting all of the valley residents under the supposition that we are all just people going through shit and shit happens and shit is going to keep happening so we should all be friends – right?
It’s the sort of community that you can walk to the gas station, grab some cider and chocolate and meander through the streets without anyone truly acknowledging you exist. There’s a homeless guy with a dog named Bear who lives by a cement wall who says hi to you and you respectfully nod back and smile at the dog. If you somehow stumble to the recreational park at one in the morning, however, avoid befriending a lady walking her two chiauaus and smoking a cigarette as she sits in the passenger seat of her car. You could quickly get recruited for an adult pornography film veiled as start-up vegan food delivery service.
Aside from having very convenient and various grocery stores and shopping malls, the valley’s best asset is having a similar mixture of people – people trying to make it. Whatever form of business or entertainment the young 20-somethings that litter Sherman Oaks are after, we can silently nod and acknowledge one another in that struggle. In LA, the part of town you live in dictates heavily which part of your career you’re in and it’s nice to know the kid waiting behind me in line at the coffee shop isn’t above hanging out in Sherman Oaks yet either. One day we’ll make it to the other side of the hills, I tell him. Maybe even upon them, where we will tolerate the threat of landslides and earthquakes sweeping our houses away for some stellar views and elite living. There I was, ready to run away with this barista type flannel bearded babe to Hollywood and we could be trendy and go to speakeasies and collaborate and have a quirky web-series that gets picked up by a network and then we’ve made it, yeah?
I wondered as I watched him order his coffee and meet up with the girl that he came here to see – when did that become the ideal lifestyle for me? Who told me that? Did I tell me that?
As I walked home from the coffee shop, I pass this little diner named Corkys. Corkys nearly always has a production going on – trailers, 10Ks posted up outside the window and various production members donning walkies rushing about. I could wander on, grab a headset and say I’m a day-player and try and network for my next gig. But that would be creepy. I don’t want to be creepy. They always have so many shows shooting at this diner; I could find one that would take me in. Does every script have a diner in it these days? Is this the same show as last week? Do we just accept that every scene takes place in the same three diners in the valley that have a reasonable locations fee? What if I just wanted breakfast on my day off?
I keep walking. Headphones in, leisurely pace, I finally arrive to the residential area and the small slice of suburbia adjacent to my apartment building. I look down at my phone and change the song. When I looked up, I saw a minivan. It was newer, silver-ish but with the classic rounded shape. The perfect almond like bubble to transport your family to and fro in. As it was approaching a stop sign and I was facing it head on. I crossed in front of it and I caught the driver’s glance.
Her face alarmed me at first. A dark haired middle aged beauty with a look of worry that once wore a wistful Saturday afternoon demeanor. She looked in her rearview, much like my mother did if I had spilled something in the backseat, something that would stain and the smell would never quite leave the car - like a milkshake. But then, her expression melding darker, looking like when my sister had hit me and I would not stop screaming from my car seat. She seemed to switch gears, putting the car in park. As she reached for her seatbelt, I saw the two passengers of the backseat leap up with excitement.
Two dark haired boys sporting none other than soccer jerseys and cleats erupted with cheer from the back of the van like drunken college buddies watching a championship and their team nailed the winning move.
As I kept crossing, I saw the mother open the driver door, she looked behind the car and grinned, relieved. The boys, in almost what appeared to be slow motion slid the side door open and filled the street with their cheers.
As I reached the other side of the street I could see the full extent of the scene. My eyes followed the boys as they ran to the back of the car, introducing our patriarch. A shorter man, again dark-haired with glasses, little round belly and a zip up sweatshirt slowed his jog to a small pace and beamed at his family. This was his Saturday, his glorious Saturday the day that made him remember why he had so much fun with his lady and the day that made him think to himself they might be little brats, but look they look just like me and they will continue my bloodline thank god for them.
It was then that I saw the true beating heart of the family.
A portly swaggering basset, his ears scraping to the ground, tongue ajar and little stubs for legs desperately trying to work against their own genetic design. His protective and loyal hound tendencies told him only to move forward to the car that held the rest of his family. His name was most likely sporty and simple and suited him well.
His little masters rushed to meet him with love, and he, struggling to breath in the dry California air, couldn’t even acknowledge them. Confused, he almost kept running, past their arms, staring ahead. But then collapsed into a little heap, sitting with legs swung outward, like a seal on a beach. He couldn’t stop panting, but he couldn’t stop smiling.
The kids embraced him with their “good boys” and “you did it.” I wanted to tell them to never let go of that dog because one day you’ll come home from college and for a second to think to call for him until you remember that he’s not there. Well, he is, but he’s that little wooden box your mom had made sitting on that shelf. Then you’ll spend the rest of your holiday break looking for pictures from this time but somehow you don’t have them.
I stood dumbfounded on the other side of the road and nearly applauded this modern family for trying to help their overweight dog get some cardio in.
The father, in the proudest moment of his Saturday looked from them to his wife and smiled. Though I couldn’t tell what he had said, it could have easily been “C’mon boys, let’s go get some ice cream.”
And there it was, hopping into a minivan, tucked behind my sketchy apartment complex and just pass the picket fences and rose bushes of Sherman Oaks - the American dream, alive and well with a perfectly happy panting hound dog.
Love. Forgive. Forget. Just love and forgive and forgive and love and forget and love and forgive and move on and love and forgive and love and forgive and forget forget forget forget but love love love and forgive. And love and forgive. And love and forgive and regret. Forget! Forget forget forget! And love, love love love love. And love and forgive and love and forgive and love and forgive and hold on to – love. Let go of everything else just keep loving loving loving and forgetting forgetting forgetting and then you’ll forgive and forgive and that’ll help you to forget and keep you loving, loving and forgiving, forgiving and loving. Love and forgive and forget. Love and forgive and forget. Love and forgive and forget.
I hop into the car service with wet boots and a thrown together post work outfit texting on my phone telling my friend I’ll be there so soon and to put in an order of the cheese plate and trying not to think about my aunt passing away and being on the opposite end of the country as my family so maybe I’ll drink tonight and just as I am wrapping up my text I ask the driver:
“So how was your day, today?”
“You know busy, still figuring things out.”
I text somewhat rudely and somehow manage to catch this. But my response is delayed a few moments later.
“How do you mean?”
“The figuring of things out.”
“Oh! Well I moved here from Iran about 4 months ago so I’m still getting use to all of this – Los Angeles, California, America and all”
“Woah. Do you miss it where you’re from?”
“Sure, sure – I had two businesses, my family, great friends I would see all the time. It was just my government. They didn’t like what I was. I was a threat to them.”
“So do you like America?”
“Yes – but I still have so much more to learn. Can you teach me?”
“Teach you? I bet you have much more to teach me.”
“Haha well we can teach each other! What is your advice for America?”
I think of my Aunt Peggy who passed away the day before. I see her dancing with my Uncle Ed in their kitchen, laughing at something the other said as a timer goes off in an oven and an old dog runs up to someone holding food and three generations of cousins and kids all laughing and smiling just a little too toasty in all of our sweaters and all in this little kitchen -
“Enjoy it. Love. I think it’s all about love. There’s too many bad things happening in this world to not love or have love.”
“I have love!” He exclaims, proudly. “My wife made it over too and I give her all the love I have in this world. We are going to be parents in two months and we are so excited and I’m going to give all of my love to that baby.”
“That’s beautiful. My advice is to embrace that, but you’re already there!”
“I will! I am!”
I smile and stare at the other cars passing on the highway, then ask
“What advice do you have for me?”
“Freedom. Enjoy your freedom. Everyone I have met here in America is so happy and kind to me. But we don’t have the same freedoms you do in your country. I am a psychologist – I just wanted to help people. But the government wouldn’t let me hold my seminars. It was very tricky for me.”
“Are you doing that here at all?”
“I’m still figuring it out – that’s why I’m doing uber yknow? They don’t have all these crazy qualifications to get hired while all of my paperwork is getting sorted out and to be honest it’s such a great way to get an education in America. Talk to your drivers. Your passengers. Everything you need to know is right here.”
He missed our destination. He pulls a U-turn which is kind of tricky because for once it is pouring in LA and you can’t see the street lanes and everyone drives slowly like they have never seen this phenomenon before. We pull up to the bar.
“Thank you! It was so nice meeting you and I wish you Happy Holidays! Drive safe!”
“Thank you, my teacher!”
And I close the door. And he pulls off.